'Tiger King': The shocking story of the drug dealer and 223 live snakes with cocaine sewed into them
Spoilers for 'Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness'
Netflix's 'Tiger King' has taken the world by storm. Not only has it uncloaked exotic zookeeper Joe Exotic's scandalous life, but it also shed light on the startling fact that there are more privately owned tigers in the American backyards as compared to just a little over 3,000 in the wild.
It's sad and alarming at the same time. But, it's not just tigers that are being subjected to the horror. Zookeepers in the crime documentary series have a variety of wild animals in their captivity, but one of the most shocking points was to see 223 live snakes being sewed to smuggle cocaine.
A zookeeper from Miami, Mario Tabraue, is the man behind that plan. Back in 1976, he had a $75 million drug ring with his father, Guillermo, through which they smuggled cocaine and marijuana into the United States.
In the Netflix series, he is introduced by animal rights activist Carole Baskin as a man whose "claim to fame is being one of the biggest drug dealers that our state ever knew."
With a disappointment, she adds, "But despite having a criminal background, he operates a wildlife menagerie. I don't know of anyone who has been able to infiltrate Mario Tabraue's facilities." What's surprising is even though he was sentenced for 100 years under narcotics and racketeering charges, he only served 12 years and returned to the zoology industry.
Shedding light on how they smuggled cocaine in those times, a former employee, Mark McCarthy reveals, "Probably around 1982, I went to work for Mario's place and people asked me, 'Why would you work for that guy? Aren't you scared?' I said, 'He has the coolest animals.'" Cheetahs, leopards, tigers, black jaguars, snow leopards, and clouded leopards were all among his private collection. He then added, "Pretty much how they would smuggle drugs, they would do the same with animals. But the penalties for that were far less than if you busted smuggling drugs."
For the drug business, they would "open up the snakes, stick bags of cocaine inside of them and stitch them back up." Moreover, they did not really care if the snake lived or died. A news clipping shown in the documentary reads, "Agents intercept 223 live snakes stuffed with drugs." While most snakes were too severely damaged to be saved, others died of heat.
Talking about his dark past, Tabraue himself said, "Back then, I sold drugs to maintain my animal habit. I got to a point when I was on the phone saying, "Mario's Drugstore, specializing in marijuana, cocaine, and quaaludes. Anybody interested, come and get it, including you, Metro-Dade Organized Crime Bureau."
With a smirk and a sense of pride, he added, "They got me on tape." According to a Miami New Times report, he also had a connection with US Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and was reportedly accused of shooting his first wife 10 times.
The documentary also peeks into his zoo where tigers have been tamed. Like pet dogs, Tabraue plays catch with them. It's rather unsettling how he perceives his actions. He said, "We interact with our animals, we give them love and passion."
In the documentary, Exotic spoke about Tabraue, "Mario's always treated me with respect and you know, everyone's got a past."
What's utterly sad is how these zookeepers don't have a tinge of regret on their faces. In fact, they beam with pride. The director of the miniseries, Eric Goode, told the New York Times in an interview, "Mario Tabraue [the convicted drug trafficker] was genuinely pleased with the outcome. He knew that he had a past that people would want to hear about."
All seven episodes of 'Tiger King' is streaming on Netflix and the astonishing facts get so bizarre at times that you can help but chuckle.