‘Tiger King’s’ Doc Antle indicted for allegedly trafficking lion cubs, animal cruelty
The hits keep on coming for “Tiger King” and the ethically dubious characters in Joe Exotic’s orbit.
Bhagavan “Doc” Antle, the owner of Myrtle Beach Safari featured in the Netflix docu-series, has been indicted in Virginia for allegedly trafficking lion cubs between Virginia and South Carolina, the office of Virginia Atty. Gen. Mark R. Herring announced Friday.
The self-proclaimed big cat lover and activist was charged with one felony count of wildlife trafficking, one felony count of conspiracy to wildlife traffic and 13 additional misdemeanor charges. Those charges include four misdemeanor counts of conspiracy to violate the Endangered Species Act and nine misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty.
Representatives for Antle did not immediately respond to The Times’ requests for comment Friday.
Antle operates the Myrtle Beach Safari in South Carolina with the aid of many young women with whom he also has romantic relationships. He also worked as an animal trainer for several 1990s films, including “The Jungle Book,” “Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls” and “Mighty Joe Young.”
Antle has criticized the “Tiger King” series as “sensationalized entertainment with paid participants,” which the filmmakers have refuted.
His two daughters were also named in the indictment. Tawny Antle has been charged with one misdemeanor count of cruelty to animals and one misdemeanor count of violating the Endangered Species Act. Tilakam Watterson has been charged with two misdemeanor counts of cruelty to animals and two misdemeanor counts of violating the Endangered Species Act.
Charges against Antle and his daughters were brought by the Grand Jury of Frederick County after a months-long investigation by Herring’s Animal Law Unit, according to a press statement from the attorney general’s office. The investigation included a raid of Antle’s South Carolina property in December 2019 by the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division.
Additionally, Keith A. Wilson, owner of Wilson’s Wild Animal Park, was charged with one felony count of wildlife trafficking, one felony count of conspiracy to wildlife traffic and 17 additional misdemeanor charges.
Wilson and his nephew Christian Dall’Acqua, who were not featured in “Tiger King,” were previously indicted on 46 counts of animal cruelty by the grand jury in Frederick County in November 2019, the attorney general said. This is after the Animal Law Unit seized 119 animals — including lions, tigers, bears, camels, goats and water buffalo — from Wilson’s “roadside zoo” after a judge issued an order finding that Wilson “cruelly treated, neglected or deprived the animal[s] of adequate care.”
Wilson and Dall’Acqua’s trial date has been set for June 2021.
The titular Tiger King, Joe Exotic, real name Joseph Allen Maldonado-Passage, catapulted to fame in the true-crime miniseries “Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness” in March as the operator of an exotic animal park in Wynnewood, Okla.
In January, before the series came out, Maldonado-Passage was sentenced to 22 years in prison for his role in a murder-for-hire plot that targeted rival animal sanctuary owner Carole Baskin, as well as for violating federal wildlife laws. (Baskin has since gone on to compete on “Dancing With the Stars.”)
Last month, Joe Exotic asked for an official pardon from President Donald Trump.
On Wednesday, the docuseries’ Tim Stark, the founder of the self-proclaimed animal refuge Wildlife in Need in Indiana, was arrested in Granville, N.Y., according to local news outlets. In June, Stark was stripped of his USDA license after the agency said he had violated the Animal Welfare Act more than 100 times.
Animal rights groups were pleased with Antle’s indictment on Friday.
“The dominoes are falling one by one — nearly every animal abuser featured in ‘Tiger King’ is now in custody, out of business or facing administrative or criminal charges,” said PETA Foundation lawyer Brittany Peet, who appeared in the Netflix series, in a statement to The Times. “After years of working to stop ‘Doc’ Antle’s cruel tiger-petting sessions and chimpanzee video stunts, PETA is eager to see him face the courtroom — and the consequences.”
Likewise, the Humane Society of the United States said the indictment came “as no surprise” and relished the “clean sweep of the cruel characters” featured in “Tiger King.”
“Once again, state officials have stepped up to fill the void left by lax enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act,” said Kitty Block, president and chief executive of the Humane Society. “Antle’s tiger mill has been the source of immense cruelty to hundreds of tigers and must be shut down. We know first-hand all about his treatment of animals.”
The society cited undercover 2014 and 2017 investigations of animal parks that “shed light on the significant role that Antle has played in supplying tiger cubs for public handling programs.” It alleged that Antle supplied tigers for breeding and a traveling circus act and whipped and cruelly trained them behind the scenes.
Netflix declined to comment.
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