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Life after "Tiger King" for Joe Exotic's rescued tigers

Life after "Tiger King"
Life after "Tiger King" for rescued tigers 03:33

This week on 60 Minutes, Jon Wertheim and a 60 Minutes team reported on the ambitious rescue mission to move an entire zoo full of animals from Puerto Rico to animal sanctuaries across the mainland United States.

Pat Craig, founder of The Wild Animal Sanctuary and leader of the operation, is no stranger to this kind of work. He has emerged as the go-to guy for high-stakes animal rescues around the world, including cases where the U.S. government is involved. 

In 2021, the Department of Justice dispatched Craig to retrieve big cats that had been kept by the so-called "Tiger King" Joe Exotic, made famous by the hit Netflix series, and his associate Jeff Lowe.

Correspondent Jon Wertheim and the 60 Minutes team traveled to The Wild Animal Sanctuary in Colorado and met tigers that were rescued from Joe Exotic's operation.

In an interview outside these tigers' massive outdoor enclosure, Craig said many of them had been kept in cages and couldn't walk more than a few paces before reaching the bars and having to turn around. When they arrived at the sanctuary, they showed signs that they had been underfed. 

"You could see their backbones and ribs," Craig told Wertheim. "They were definitely not starving to death, but definitely underfed."

Craig said that being trapped in a cage meant that tigers couldn't be themselves. He said the sanctuary gave them the terrain to learn "how to be a tiger," and do things like run, chase, stalk and hide in tall grass.

"You just see things start clicking in their head where they're like, 'Oh, oh, this makes sense,'" Craig explained to 60 Minutes. "All the natural behaviors start coming out."

With large, wide-open spaces, Craig said, the tigers can run at a full sprint, reaching speeds of up to 30 or 40 miles per hour. That kind of exercise helps them build the muscle they would normally have in the wild. 

According to Craig, one of Joe Exotic's tigers arrived at the sanctuary weighing less than 400 pounds. Now, years later, it's 600 pounds with visible muscle tone along its arms. 

"He had none of that when we rescued him," Craig said. "They'll live a nice, long life now."

The video above was produced and edited by Will Croxton. 

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