In the crazy hectic world of big cats, career-long feuds, and murder there sits Saff. The relatively new Netflix show Tiger King has gripped the internet over the past few weeks and with it, it has brought a cast of chaotic characters. By the end of the series, almost no one comes out unsullied by scandal save a select few like Saff, for whom the safety of said big cats (and all the other animals on the properties) is paramount.
Saff has become a breakout star of the show, and with that much has been discussed about his gender and his name as depicted in the series. Here, we talk to him about how things have been since the show, whether Carole Baskin ever came after him trying to get to Joe Exotic, and what he thinks about all the discussion.
How's everything been for you since the show has come out on Netflix?
Well, it's been pretty chaotic. Honestly.
You know I have been in the news before, obviously when my incident happened, but this is a whole different level. Like people recognize me; I went to Walmart last night and three people recognized me in a Walmart during a pandemic. So it's definitely different.
Has there been anything that's been particularly crazy or is it has it just been being recognized in public?
It's been just all around crazy. I'm used to a very low-key lifestyle. I've always kind of just done my own thing and never really pushed to be in the public eye. I was perfectly fine with that. So this is a little bit new to me and I'll be honest, sometimes it gets a little bit uncomfortable, you know, honestly. I do enjoy my space.
There's sort of talk of there being another show based on the podcast. Do you know anything about that or have you been in conversation about that?
I haven't talked to anyone about it, or they haven't spoken to me, I should say. But as far as just the amount of footage that was collected throughout the filming of it, I mean, it was years and years of them putting this all together. Just from my end, I know that there's more there's more
Was there something that didn't make it into the show that you were sort of surprised didn't make it?
I think what the amount of time that they spent on park filming wasn't reflected. There wasn't a lot of what we do there, you know. There were bits and pieces of the animal interactions with us, but there was so much more to it. It wasn't just a matter of doing these cub petting events or these tours; we constantly interacted with our animals. They were friends to us and we looked forward to interacting with them. And it varied; it wasn't just cats. Some people were excited to go spend time with a cockatoo or excited to go spend time with a skunk. You become very, very much attached to these animals as if they are a large part of your life and I don't think that was depicted as much as as I know it was present.
How did you get into the industry?
I was in the army right out of school in Hawaii and ever since I remember being able to say tiger, I would want a tiger. Obviously, you can't have them in Hawaii, it's just not something that anyone can have as a privately owned pet. So my best bet was to go to the zoo as often as I could and I remember sitting in front of that tiger cage, just hoping to get get a glimpse of it.
I carried that through my entire life and once I was able to do it for myself, I said, I was going to get my hands on a tiger like this. And that's exactly what I did.
Would you say the show's depiction of Joe Exotic is true to what you knew of Joe?
Yeah, I mean, they didn't show it all. It was a very generalized Joe because Joe has many — and I say this over and over, —Joe has many faces. Joe is like a chameleon: he can be or thinks he can be anything that you need him to be. If you need him to be funny, he'll be funny. If you need him to be a country music artist, he's gonna try his hand at that too. I'm not sitting here saying that he was great or good at any of it or all of it. You know what I mean? But he gave his all to everything he did. And I stand to what I said on the show as well: If there was a way, Joe would find it and that's just a fact. He was an entrepreneur and entertainer by nature. You put those two together and it's a pretty good marketing tool.
So obviously, one of the big things in the series was the incident that you had with the tiger and having your arm amputated. It seemed like to me the importance to you was not making it a big thing and I'm wondering if something like that happened again, would you react the same way? I also read that there was footage of that they didn't show?
Yes sir. sure of it. In the show, I think there was like a still or maybe just like a very short clip of what happened because we really filmed everything. So there were always cameras rolling. That was just a typical day, a typical tour day for us so nothing was supposed to happen.
I think at one point, Joe actually used the video as a safety video for interns or employees and it's gruesome and it's not for the faint of heart. But I think it drove the point home that these are big, big beast of creatures and they're wild, no matter what we say, no matter what anyone says. These are wild animals, and they have wild animal instincts. That's just something that when you're in the industry, you need to keep in mind
I know you said that you said you're not a huge fan of all the fame but you became a breakout star for all the right reasons in comparison to all the other characters. How has that been?
You know, mainly it's just an uncomfortable thing for me as it's all-new. So, it's not necessarily that it's, negative. I'm not upset about it. I'm glad that it's getting the attention that it's getting because I think it deserves the attention. In the animal industry, I think we feel like we fight all the fights alone because there are other issues at hand that people are focused on. So I think the additional attention is always positive, even if people are like, "Oh, that's the craziest thing I've ever seen." It's still they have seen it and now it's on their mind. Maybe next time they'll think twice about decisions that pertain towards or are pertinent to the animal world.
This was my life for almost 10 years, I completely was consumed by it. I lived day in and day out caring for these animals, blood, sweat, tears and a left hand. You know, I sacrificed for that cause and for the animals so I think that's the thing that I take away from it the most. If walking around Walmart and getting recognized means that more people are involved in the world that I invested so much of myself into then I can smile at the end of the day, that's for sure.
In the show, Joe talked about how Carole Baskin started coming after anyone around him just to get to him. Did you ever have an experience with her or her people?
I wouldn't ever say she came after me but she did reach out through third parties immediately after my incident. Without being malicious or without even bringing in her feud with Joe I declined to speak because, at the end of the day, I was more focused on just kind of getting back and doing damage control with what had just happened. The last thing I wanted to do was having a conversation about Joe.
I was genuinely focused on the animals and, and the park because the park is, you know, the animals' lifeline. So I just shut it down immediately, again without being malicious without even bringing up our feud with Joe or any of that. I told her that I wasn't interested and I just wanted to get back to the animals. And that was it.
So there's a lot of reports right now saying that you were misgendered throughout the series and I wanted to see if you wanted to address all of that.
I think the reason that I stay pretty neutral on it all is I've never been one to tell people what to be or what to say or how to handle anything. It's a big community out there so I don't want to pick a side either way. If people are asking me what I prefer, it's very obvious what I prefer, and that's he. But I'm not going to tell anyone what they need to or should call me. I think that everyone's entitled to their own opinion, and I'm obviously as easygoing in that department as I can get.
I don't think that I personally get offended I think others do. I think everyone should stand up for what they believe in. I just — it's literally one of the last things that I really considered worrying about.
There were also some reports that identified you as a trans man.
No, I, I can honestly say no. I don't know that that describes me. You know, nothing was done. I really just have lived this lifestyle. And, you know, my family knows this. And obviously, people closest to me know. This is how I've lived my entire life. I don't know anything else.
Is there anything that frustrates you about the coverage that you're seeing out there?
I read an article earlier that said that I left the zoo because Joe left the zoo. That's frustrating to hear because that's not true: I left the zoo because my reason to be at the zoo left the zoo.
Do you want to speak to the reason that you were there at the zoo?
I wanted to make sure that my children were able to interact with the animals, like I was able to interact with them. Because when I was a kid, it was my dream and I lived my dream. I wanted my children to be able to if they choose to do that. The passion never went away — I still have that drive to do it — but I didn't see that in the mission of the zoo anymore, honestly. That's why I left. If I could have packed all those animals up, I would have taken them with me, but obviously that's not something that I could have done.
Are you in touch with any of the new zoo owners?
No, I mean, I know that I had interaction with them, you know, for almost two years. Because we kind of crossed paths there, you know, I was there before them, and then they showed up and then I left and then they're still there. So, our paths crossing were about a little under two years, I would say is when we worked directly together, me, Jeff and Lauren, and as far as you know, interacting with anyone else from there: no, when I walked away, I completely disconnected from everybody.