The Joe Exotic Photos That Landed Miranda Lambert In Hot Water

At least a handful of celebrities have come forward to address their connection to Joe Exotic Maldonado-Passage, the controversial zookeeper who is currently serving 22 years in prison for wildlife violations and a murder-for-hire plot. Remember when Shaquille O'Neal was seen visiting Oklahoma's Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park in Netflix's docuseries, Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness, for instance? The NBA star jumped on his podcast, The Big Podcast with Shaq, to explain that he had no idea tigers were being abused and denied the Kansas native was his friend.

Britney Spears is also strangely tangled up in this drama because her 2001 MTV performance, which included a python and caged tiger, was all thanks to Bhagavan "Doc" Antle, a mentor-like figure to Joe.  And alligators belonging to the late Michael Jackson were reportedly killed in 2015 during a suspicious fire at the zoo, The Los Angeles Times reported. 

But just when you thought every odd connection had been uncovered, Miranda Lambert took to Instagram on April 13, 2020, to insert herself into the saga of Joe Exotic. Buckle up for a wild ride, folks.

Miranda Lambert sparks controversy on Instagram

A few weeks after Tiger King's premiere, country superstar Miranda Lambert shared photos on Instagram of herself with Joe Exotic, his ex-husband, John Finlay, and employee Saff Saffery. She captioned the series, which includes shots of a Humane Society truck and cages, "Here's a little Monday memory for y'all." Lambert added the hashtags #TigerKing and #WayTooPrettyForPrison, making some fans go, "huh?"

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The response from followers was mixed, as one might expect. Some found the photo series epic, and one person commented, "I LOVE YOU 1000x more than I ever thought possible right now!" Someone else wrote, "Just when I thought you couldn't get any cooler." And another commenter took the opportunity to echo Cardi B's rally cry to free Joe. Hmm.

Meanwhile, other Instagram users were not very impressed with the photo series, as one critic penned, "Joe is too pretty for prison? Well, tigers are too pretty to be captive in conditions that Joe kept them in. They are too pretty to be shot and killed for no reason." Another person added, "These animals are not meant to be held in captivity. He is not an animal rescuer. And there he is in front of a humane society vehicle. Ha... ironic."

The back-and-forth earned a response from Lambert, which included a backstory on her connection to Joe Exotic.

Miranda Lambert clarifies her connection to Joe Exotic

Although Miranda Lambert perhaps intended for her post to be playful, many fans didn't share her sense of humor. The pictures of Joe Exotic standing in front of a Humane Society truck were just too much for some, as per a federal grand jury's indictment, he bred tigers for profit and shot them in the head when they outnumbered cages at the G.W. Zoo.

Lambert seemed to sense the growing fury because she quickly jumped on Twitter to provide some context, writing, "Backstory: During Hurricane Harvey, the MuttNation Team went to Houston to help relocate existing shelter dogs to free up shelter space for animals separated by their owners." She continued, "MuttNation asked for volunteers who could transport some dogs from Houston to shelters in Oklahoma, where there was more room and they could be treated and adopted. Some guy named Joe volunteered his trailer and staff. Now I know it's 'Joe Exotic.'"

The "Tin Man" singer then backpedaled a bit, adding, "I've never been to his zoo and I didn't even know he had tigers. OBVIOUSLY, I'd never condone animals being treated badly."

FYI: The MuttNation Foundation was started by Lambert and her mom to "ensure that as many dogs as possible would have a safe and happy place to call home," per the organization's website.

Miranda Lambert is a respected animal rights activist

As Miranda Lambert noted in her message to fans, she'd never "condone animals being treated badly." In fact, MuttNation announced in February 2020 its plans to donate $160,000 worth of grants to 50 animal shelters around the country, per Nash Country Daily. "We both feel such a deep connection with animals and have so much compassion for the ones that need us the most," Lambert said in a joint statement with her mom. "Our big message is that we encourage everyone to adopt from their local shelter or if they're not in the market for a new dog or cat, volunteer at their local rescue."

Fans backed up the Texas native's activism, with one person tweeting, "Anyone can tell those photos were from a while ago and if you know ANYTHING about ML, you know she does not condone animal abuse at all." Someone else chimed in, "I hate that you have to explain the picture. [If] anyone has followed you, they know how much you love animals. Thank you for all you do!"

It seems like Lambert's reputation in the animal rights community is pretty solid. Still, many unanswered questions remain surrounding her Instagram post. For instance, why did Joe Exotic help out MuttNation? Was he genuinely doing some good? Or was he hoping to boost his "music career" by helping a well-known musician? Fans might never know the truth.