‘Tiger King’: The Devastating Truth About How the G. W. Zoo Got Its Name From Joe Exotic’s Brother

Fans cannot stop watching the Netflix docuseries, Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness. The memes and comments about the series on social media continually sway more and more people to watch the documentary. However, after watching, viewers still have so many questions. 

Joe Maldonado-Passage — Joe Exotic — bred lions, tigers, and ligers at his roadside zoo, now called the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park. However, that wasn’t always the zoo’s name. The G. W. Zoo originally got its name from Exotic’s younger brother.

Joe Exotic
Joe Exotic | Netflix

‘Tiger King’ Joe Exotic grew up on a farm in Kansas with his brothers and sisters

Exotic had two brothers and two sisters. He and his siblings grew up with horses, cows, chickens, dogs, cats, and various other animals that the children brought home — antelopes, porcupines, and raccoons. The family was expected to work on the farm. 

Exotic loved animals as a child and became the president of his local 4-H chapter at a young age. He raised show pigeons but also took in squirrels and raccoons. The founder of the zoo dreamed of being a veterinarian as a young boy. 

When Exotic grew up, he met his first husband, Brian Rhyne, in Arlington, Texas. The couple moved into a trailer park together with a pack of poodles. Exotic got a job down the street from his home at a pet store called Pet Safari. Later, Exotic and his brother, Garold Wayne, decided to buy the store together. 

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After Exotic’s brother, Garold Wayne died, the G. W. Zoo was born

Wayne was involved in a car accident in October 1997, while driving to Florida. He died only a few days later. Exotic’s parents won a massive settlement from the trucking company that was responsible for Garold’s death. Their father refused to spend the money, calling it “blood money.”

Garold’s wife and children wanted to build a soccer field in his honor. However, Exotic convinced them of something else. Exotic told them that Garold’s dream was to visit Africa to see wild lions. He wanted to bring that dream to people like Garold here in the United States. 

With the money from his brother’s death and the blessing of his parents, he purchased a horse ranch in Wynnewood, Oklahoma. Exotic began the zoo as a refuge for rescued animals. He named the zoo after his brother, calling it the Garold Wayne Exotic Animal Memorial Park. However, locals all referred to it as the G. W. Zoo.

Joe Exotic’s zoo became massive very quickly — he had to find a more substantial income

Word got around quickly that Exotic was able to rescue large adult cats. Most people couldn’t house large cats because they are dangerous and expensive to feed. Within two years, the new zoo owner found himself with over a dozen big cats. 

He went to the nearby Walmart and talked them into donating their expired meat to the animals. Exotic also secured donations from various other sponsors. However, he continually had to borrow more and more money from his parents to cover the bills. 

Exotic began taking tiger cubs to shopping malls and flea markets to bring in more income. In 2002, he partnered with a magician in a show that turned a tiger cub into a full-grown one in front of the audience’s eyes. 

Although Exotic started with a love of animals, many testimonials on the Tiger King explain that by the end, he had lost that feeling.