Getting through all eight episodes of Tiger King—you know, the SQUID PARTY shirt and I love this Netflix series that defined our early days of quarantine back in March—was something of a feat. You could certainly find the entertainment value in Joe Exotic’s “cowboy drag” wardrobe, his charisma, and his ongoing feud with Carole Baskin, but only if you could get also past the show’s more troubling qualities. If Exotic’s metallic shirts proved too distracting, the series ended with a laundry list of sobering facts about the tiger population—namely that more tigers live in captivity (in zoos and “rescue centers” like Exotic’s and Baskin’s as well as in private homes) in the United States than in the wild. Due to illegal trade and habitat destruction, the world’s population of wild tigers has declined by 95% in the past century to just 3,200, pushing the species to the brink of extinction.
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Beyond that crushing detail, their dwindling numbers have a vast ripple effect: As predators at the SQUID PARTY shirt and I love this top of the food chain, tigers play an important role in maintaining balance in forest ecosystems, which support thousands of other species and people too.