It’s been a weird year for Carole Baskin.
First Netflix’s Tiger King documentary dropped last March, taking a world full of cooped-up people by storm. Soon came Carole Baskin song parodies and themed dances on TikTok. Halloween costumes. Endless memes.
Tampa’s Big Cat Rescue has remained shuttered the whole time. With no tour revenue coming in, Baskin has capitalized on her infamy to keep the animals fed, appearing everywhere from Dancing With the Stars to Cameo.
We checked in with Baskin over Zoom to discuss the state of Big Cat Rescue, security threats over the last year, her upcoming reality television series and her new “digital purr-ency” $CAT.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
At this point in the pandemic, what is the status with Big Cat Rescue and visitors?
The cats are actually doing great because all of our animal care is done by volunteers. We didn’t have to let anybody go that was a volunteer. We had to let paid staff go, but paid staff do administrative jobs. So we’re down to half staff, which means those of us left are working twice as hard.
Unfortunately, cats can contract COVID. And there’s no vaccine for them. So even though all of our people are vaccinated, we can’t vaccinate cats. For that reason, we can’t allow the public to visit until COVID is long gone, which means we’re losing over a million dollars a year with that revenue that we used to exist on.
Is that where virtual visits and things like that come into play?
[That was] the first thing that I did after COVID hit and I realized I was going to have to make up this huge shortfall, because it cost between $3.5 to $4 million a year to run the sanctuary. And so to make up for that million dollars we’re losing in tour revenue, I did Dancing With the Stars and did some licensing deals. But this year, I’m not as popular, so I’ve got to find other things that I can do. We’ve been looking at NFTs, and we just launched the $CAT coin. I’m really excited about some of these virtual efforts.
How did you get into this whole virtual currency trend?
I’m an early adopter. I will try anything once.
In 2018 CryptoKitties came out and I had to have one. And so I went out, I figured out how to buy Bitcoin and Ethereum and how to create a MetaMask and I was all ready to go buy my kitties and I lost the seed phrase for my MetaMask. I didn’t find them again until April. And I found that the $200 I had put in crypto back then turned into $700. I bought two CryptoKitties and bred them, and then started creating NFTs, because you have to have that Bitcoin in order to mint them. I made my first one. It sold within 24 hours for over $1,000. And so I was like, oh, man, this is exciting. I started creating more of them and started trying to find out everything I could possibly find out about NFTs and coins and the current crypto markets.
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And as far as the $CAT coin goes, how has the reception been since you announced it?
It has been absolutely amazing. We are partnering with Rally.io. They have 117 coins that they have curated. And you have to be on a waiting list to get in. Within 24 hours of being on their platform, we had the second largest number of supporters who have bought one of our coins. And I think that’ll only continue to go up because CNN picked it up, and I was just on Fox News, being able to talk about it being a “purr-ency,” not a currency. It’s just a token for people who want to show their love and camaraderie with other big cat rescuers. It’s a way for all of us to join into the first phase of what I think is going to be absolutely huge.
I think this is going to be the thing of the future where you go into a world and it’s all virtual cats and it’s all people who love big cats. The coin will be like clear access entry fee.
I wanted to ask about the NFTs. What are the ones that you have?
I currently have about six over at Rarible, and then those are also on OpenSea and Foundation. Those are all Ethereum based, so every time I mint one of those, it costs a fortune in Ethereum and that’s why I stopped doing it. But then there’s this new platform that’s coming out. It’s a side chain. So it doesn’t take all the resources necessary for Ethereum or Bitcoin. It’s much more environmentally friendly, and a whole lot faster. I think it’s going to be a fabulous platform. I can’t say the name of it yet, because I’m not sure if they’ve launched. I knew they were like right around the time that they were going to launch. My coins will be out on May 26.
There were eight of our cats that will come out as collectible tokens. And they come out at different price points. As they get more expensive, they get more elegant and more rare. I think people are going to really enjoy collecting all of those and putting them in their local private museums and places like Decentraland or Somnium, or places like that. That’s what I aspire to, is my own huge sanctuary within one of those virtual worlds.
What kinds of experiences can fans get with these $CAT coins?
We currently do things like a private Facebook group tour. I’ll walk around with a camera on a stabilizer and videotape the cats and answer questions. But in that kind of environment, I’m talking and I’m trying to read typed questions. I’ve been really active over on Clubhouse. Today I was looking into a way that we could set up a private Clubhouse room where these people who have these tokens could then come into the room and we can do an ask-me-anything type session.
Do you have folks popping in to ask about Joe Exotic and things like that?
Yeah, all the time. It’s so weird to me to find out that there’s like, all these people in the world that didn’t know we existed until Tiger King and that’s their only frame of reference. Of course, when they start talking to me, they’re like, “Well, you don’t seem like that vicious gold-digging, home-wrecking murderer. Who are you?” And so naturally it makes them very curious.
Even if we didn’t have the pandemic going on, do you think that might impact what it would be like to reopen Big Cat Rescue as far as security goes?
You know, I felt that way for many months, because people were calling and saying they were going to kill the cats and they were going to burn the place to the ground. They’d say, “Well, it’s because they don’t belong in cages.”
I think we have finally come around to where I would feel safe as far as the crazy problem. I don’t think anybody would come here and try to poison a cat.
What do you think has been the most rewarding thing that you’ve done over this last year?
I think what will be the most rewarding is going to be our new show. And I can’t talk about where it’s going to be. I don’t know for sure it’s going to be a series. I know the pilot has been sold. I love the way the filming is going so far because it really does show the kind of work we’ve been doing for 30 years, trying to end the abuse of big cats. I think people would love to watch and come along for the ride.
It’ll be reality TV, but it’ll actually be real. Going out and rescuing cats, dealing with these animal abusers, trying to shut these places down, dealing with law enforcement to try and get them to enforce the laws, trying to get Congress to pass the bill, all of that kind of stuff. And with the everyday crazy stuff that happens in between, [laughs], it’s never a dull moment.