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Big cats are king at East Tennessee tiger sanctuary

No Joe Exotic or Carole Baskin here, but Mary Lynn Haven does have a lot of big cats.

Look around and you'd be forgiven for thinking you'd stepped into a scene from the Netflix breakout hit Tiger King, but Mary Lynn Haven is no Joe Exotic. 

"We're a rescue facility for big cats, we have all the big cats, lions tigers leopards, cougars, etc," she told 10News in a phone interview Friday. 

Her big cat sanctuary, Tiger Haven, is 30 miles from Knoxville and has two hundred and forty three exotic cats. 

It's not open to the public, runs mostly on donations and Haven doesn't have a social media empire like Carole Baskin from the Netflix show. 

"People need to do it from their heart to take care of the animals. We're not here to entertain and neither is the animal," she said. "Most of these animals, they've earned the right to have their privacy."

Haven has been caring for cats since the early 90s. Her animals come from backyards, circuses and cub-petting operations like the one in Tiger King. 

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She has a theory for why the show was able to find such colorful characters. 

"Even if they start out liking the animals and thinking the animals are really cool, they realize how it really draws people to them. All of sudden they are the 'king,' everyone wants to be their pal because they have the tiger," she said. 

Nine workers live on her property full-time and food comes in the form of a 40,000-pound truckload of beef every three weeks, but Haven said she runs a different sort of operation from the kind depicted in the show.  

"It's not a nine-to-five, it's a lifestyle for sure. But it doesn't have to be a bizarre lifestyle," she said. 

Still, she said the show captured the true form of its subjects.

"I’ve met all but two or three of them and they seem pretty much like when I met them," she said. 

When asked about one of the show's plot twists and enduring mysteries, Haven said she did not know whether Baskin killed her husband. But she does believe true sanctuaries don't have guests or charge admission. 

Even if the more colorful characters get the lion's share of the attention, big cats still roam and roar in Roane County,Tennessee. 

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