In the latest developments in the Tiger King saga, “Doc” Antle has been formally charged with animal cruelty and trafficking.
Antle, whose real name is Bhagavan Antle, has owned and operated Myrtle Beach Safari Park for nearly 30 years. On Wednesday, a grand jury in Virginia’s Frederick County indicted him on nine misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty, four misdemeanor accounts of conspiracy to violate the Endangered Species Act, one felony count of conspiracy to wildlife traffic and one felony count of wildlife trafficking.
According to ABC 8 News in Richmond, investigators believe that Antle was trafficking lion cubs between his facility and Wilson’s Wild Animal Park, located in Frederick County and owned by Keith A. Wilson. He faces charges nearly identical to those of Antle.
The same jury also indicted Antle’s two daughters, Tawny Antle and Tilakum Watterson, on misdemeanor counts of cruelty to animals and violating the Endangered Species Act.
The charges are the result of a months-long investigation conducted by Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring’s Animal Law Unit, which included a search of Antle’s zoo in December 2019.
By the time the wildly popular Netflix docuseries Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness debuted in March 2020, Antle already had a record with the United States Department of Agriculture. The Post and Courier in Myrtle Beach, S.C. reported Friday that Antle had been cited more than 35 times for mistreating animals.
PETA Foundation’s Brittany Peet, the deputy general counsel of captive animal law enforcement, issued a statement: “The dominos 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. 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.”
Kitty Block, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, also reacted. “Antle’s indictment comes as no surprise to us and makes a clean sweep of the cruel characters featured front and center in the series Tiger King,” Block said in part, noting that Tiger King’s Tim Stark was arrested last week on charges stemming from his alleged mistreatment of animals. “Sadly, they are not the only ones who breed and hold wildlife captive for a lifetime of abuse. Hundreds of these characters run operations just like them and must be stopped. These animals are bred for profit, snatched from their moms for cub petting and photos by the paying public, then discarded when they are too dangerous to handle at a few months of age.”
A day after Antle’s indictment, there was Tiger King news of another kind: Officials at the Colorado-based, nonprofit Wild Animal Sanctuary announced that they had removed the last of the animals from Oklahoma’s Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park, which was formerly owned by the infamous Joe Exotic himself (real name: Joseph Maldonado-Passage). The zoo is permanently closed.
Maldonado-Passage is serving a 22-year sentence in federal prison for trying to hire someone to kill Carole Baskin, another big cat owner he’d feuded with for years.
A court awarded Maldonado-Passage’s zoo to Baskin in May. So her Big Cat Sanctuary was part of the team relocating the last of the animals there — 11 wolves, three tigers, a black bear and a grizzly bear — to the 10,000-acre Wild Animal Sanctuary.
Per a news release, “All of the animals are currently being medically evaluated as well as beginning the process of rehabilitation that will lead to their being released into large-acreage, natural habitats at the Refuge in the coming weeks.”
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