PETA Statement: ‘Doc’ Antle Hit With New Felony Counts of Wildlife Trafficking

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Update (June 16, 2022): Tiger King villain and Myrtle Beach Safari operator Bhagavan “Doc” Antle has been charged with two felony counts of wildlife trafficking under Virginia law. Antle, who is already facing felony wildlife-trafficking and cruelty-to-animals charges related to trafficking lion cubs from the now-defunct Wilson’s Wild Animal Park, also has a detention hearing this afternoon related to his pending federal charges for money laundering.

Since this wildlife exploiter couldn’t put himself in the animals’ place, he ought to end up where he put them: behind bars. As felony charges mount, PETA is calling on the U.S. Department of Agriculture to stop granting Antle special treatment and shut down the wildlife-handling events that have been at the root of his alleged crimes, caused egregious suffering to animals, and lined his sleazy pockets.

—Brittany Peet, PETA Foundation Deputy General Counsel for Captive Animal Law Enforcement

Update (June 3, 2022): The FBI has reportedly just arrested Tiger King villain and Myrtle Beach Safari operator Bhagavan “Doc” Antle, whose initial hearing is reportedly set for Monday. It’s fitting that “Doc” Antle is behind bars after years of locking up the endangered animals he uses in tawdry photo ops. His legal woes are mounting, as PETA recently blew the whistle on his apparent “charity” scam, and the end to his reign of terrorizing tiger cubs can’t come soon enough.

Originally posted December 15, 2021:

Bhagavan “Doc” Antle operates Myrtle Beach Safari (aka “T.I.G.E.R.S.”), a South Carolina roadside zoo where baby exotic animals are torn away from their mothers so that they can be passed around for highly profitable public encounters, routinely treated as props for publicity stunts, and exploited for “likes” on social media. A decades-long PETA target, Antle is a key player in the big-cat cub-petting industry, an alleged wildlife trafficker, and the titular villain featured in Netflix’s Tiger King: The Doc Antle Story.

With a long history of violating the federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA), Antle has been cited for endangering the public and failing to provide animals with needed veterinary care, sufficient cage space, and clean water. Infamous big-cat exploiter Joseph Maldonado-Passage (aka “Joe Exotic”) has claimed that Antle puts tiger cubs who have become too old for playtime events into a gas chamber to kill them and then cremates their bodies on site.

For decades, Doc Antle has rivaled P.T. Barnum in exploiting the defenseless for his own financial gain.

Antle often misleads visitors to his operation into believing that they’re helping to fund conservation efforts. Using that as an excuse for the high price point of the dangerous hands-on encounters that he offers, he allows members of the public, including his “VIP” guests, to swim with tigers, pose with an elephant, or hold a baby chimpanzee. But remember: No true animal sanctuary or legitimate conservation organization exploits endangered animals in cruel public encounters, nor would doing so conserve these animals’ counterparts in their natural habitats.

Since he got into the animal-exploiting business nearly 40 years ago, Doc Antle has used wild animals for TV productions.

He brags that he’s taken animals onto late-night talk shows and that he exhibited animals during a live performance on an MTV awards show. These were undoubtedly loud, frightening situations for the animals to endure, and they surely experienced stress and suffering. Now that no chimpanzees are used in Hollywood—thanks in part to overwhelming public opposition to their exploitation—Antle settles for parading chimpanzees around on social media.

Since early on in his career, he’s been cited for various animal welfare violations.

He’s also been called out by authorities for the following:

  • Bubbles, an African elephant who was imported from Zimbabwe and is now being exhibited by the notorious Antle, is one of the loneliest elephants in the U.S. Exploited for TV spots, Bubbles hasn’t had contact with another elephant for 31 years.
  • During an event held at a Tennessee high school on October 6, 1990, Antle allowed several people to pose with a tiger. An arrest warrant was subsequently issued charging him with allowing direct contact between dangerous animals and the public. A news article at the time stated that he had been the subject of investigations by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency as well as the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and “had been targeted with several lawsuits.”
  • A lion he was using in a photo shoot in New Hampshire on October 9, 1991, attacked a model. The animal grabbed her by the head, causing injuries requiring more than 50 stitches. Throughout the investigation, Antle gave authorities the run-around.
  • During an inspection at a Renaissance fair in Massachusetts on October 11, 1991, Antle admitted that punching wild cats was a method that he used “when an animal misbehaves.” Ultimately, he was issued a violation for having an expired permit, fined $50, and ordered to leave the state.
  • The USDA assessed him a civil penalty of $3,500 on October 22, 1991, to address a number of violations of the AWA. Six months later, the agency followed up demanding payment of the penalty because his check had bounced.
  • On February 27, 1992, a USDA investigative report detailed alleged violations of U.S. Fish and Wildlife regulations by Antle’s interstate movement of tiger cubs not accompanied by health certificates. The inspector stated, “This investigation has taken a long period of time to assemble the information submitted. This in part was due to Antle presenting false and misleading information as to the location of the tiger in question.”
  • Antle was assessed a $1,000 civil penalty on November 12, 1993, for failing to conduct a required official test and failing to have a certificate containing the required information for the interstate transport of bison from Florida to Tennessee.
  • Antle was indicted in October 2020 and charged with one felony count of wildlife trafficking, one felony count of conspiracy to traffic in wildlife, and 13 misdemeanor charges, including cruelty to animals, in Virginia. His charges stem from his alleged involvement in trafficking in lions with the owner of the now-defunct Wilson’s Wild Animal Park, Keith Wilson, who faces similar charges. Virginia officials seized more than 100 animals from the roadside zoo after PETA filed complaints with the state.

Doc Antle with lion on chain

The USDA told Antle in 2005 that his public photo ops with adult big cats violated the AWA, but it has repeatedly let him get away with these dangerous encounters since then. PETA is calling on the agency to stop standing by and letting him endanger vulnerable tigers.

Doc Antle has no qualms about tearing babies away from their mothers.

He regularly churns out big-cat cubs for use in public encounters. But where do these baby tigers go when they outgrow their profitability? Antle keeps some on his property to be used as breeders. He uses others in a theatrical display during public tours. And he ships some tigers off to exploitative exhibitors:

  • On July 17, 2019, Antle shipped two 8-month-old tigers to Ryan Easley, a circus trainer who had been caught whipping tigers, including one who was reportedly struck 31 times.
  • On April 1, 2019, Antle sold two 8-month-old tigers to Jay Owenhouse, a magician who exploits tigers in a traveling act.
  • On November 6, 2008, the USDA cited exhibitor Mario Tabraue for knowingly creating fraudulent documentation and presenting false information to a USDA official regarding the acquisition and transfer of two tiger cubs he had acquired from Antle.
  • Between October and December 2006, Antle sent 12-week-old tigers to Big Cats of Serenity Springs, a now-defunct roadside zoo in Colorado.
  • In July 2006, he sent seven tigers overseas to Thailand’s Samutprakarn Crocodile Farm and Zoo, which uses the animals for “tiger selfie” photo ops. In January 2021, he claimed that the facility was “beautiful” during an interview with National Geographic, also calling the reporter “Al-Qaeda to the max” when she informed him that investigators had found many animal welfare concerns, including that handlers carried wooden rods with them as they forced wailing and distressed tigers to pose for tourists’ photos while chained to the concrete floor by their necks.

Antle also has a history of acquiring big cats from shady exhibitors across the country:

  • May 29, 2018—A paper shown in the first season of Tiger King notes that “Joe Exotic” sent three 5-week-old tigers and a 4-week-old liliger to Antle. Dillon Passage, “Joe Exotic’s” ex-husband, swiped the document from the producer in an apparent effort to hide the information.
  • July 18, 2016—Tanganyika Wildlife Park, a roadside zoo in Kansas, shipped three 2-week-old tiger cubs and a 3-week-old clouded leopard to Antle.
  • May 21, 2016—Tiger Safari, a roadside zoo in Oklahoma, shipped three tiger cubs who were just 8 hours old to him.
  • April 14, 2015—Natural Bridge Zoo, a roadside zoo in Virginia, shipped four tiger cubs who were only a week old to him.
  • April 13, 2015—Tiger Safari shipped three tiger cubs who were only a day old to him.
  • September 16, 2014—Tiger Safari shipped two 5-day-old tiger cubs to him.
  • June 14, 2014—Wild Animal Safari, a roadside zoo in Missouri, shipped three 5-day-old tiger cubs to him.

Doc Antle is president of a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation, Preservation Station, Inc. (doing business as the Rare Species Fund), which claims to fund international, on-the-ground wildlife conservation and promote conservation education via “animal ambassadors.”

On its federal tax returns, the Rare Species Fund reports that most of its expenses—more than two-thirds on average—go toward direct animal care, not international conservation work. However, the animals receiving this care appear to be those who reside at Antle’s for-profit roadside zoo, Myrtle Beach Safari.

The Rare Species Fund claims the roadside zoo as one of its “conservation projects” and identifies its “animal ambassadors” as the same animals Antle exploits for his own financial gain.

Antle thus appears to be using the Rare Species Fund’s income to offset the costs of his own for-profit business activities, in violation of the nonprofit’s tax-exempt status. He also appears to have made numerous material misrepresentations on the nonprofit’s tax returns in order to hide its connections to his roadside zoo and evade paying taxes.

In addition to these violations of the federal Internal Revenue Code, Antle appears to be violating charitable solicitation laws in Florida and South Carolina by soliciting donations from the public for the primary purpose of international wildlife conservation, then using the proceeds of those solicitations to pay for the direct care of animals at Myrtle Beach Safari, a for-profit roadside zoo with zero conservation value.

Take Action for Tigers and Other Animals

Please urge Myrtle Beach Safari to end its cruel public encounters and send the animals to reputable facilities where they could live in peace and get the care that they deserve. It only takes a minute using your phone or computer, so what are you waiting for?

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