This week, Bhagavan “Doc” Antle—known for his apperance in Netflix series Tiger King—was charged with one felony count of wildlife trafficking, one felony count of conspiracy to wildlife traffic, four misdemeanor counts of conspiracy to violate the Endangered Species Act, and nine misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty in Virginia. The Tiger King star’s two daughters, Tawny Antle and Tilakum Watterson, were also slapped with multiple misdemeanor charges related to animal cruelty. The indictments come after a months-long investigation by Virginia Attorney General Herring’s Animal Law Unit.
In March, Netflix docuseries Tiger King introduced viewers to the GW Exotic Animal Park and feud between then owner Joe Exotic (a roadside zookeeper and animal breeder) and Carole Baskin (owner of Big Cat Rescue sanctuary who worked to shut down Exotic’s zoo), along with other eccentric characters classified loosely as “big cat people,” including Antle and Jeffrey Lowe, who all engage in exploiting wild animals for profit.
In April, animal-rights group The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) released never-before-seen footage of animal abuse at the zoo to show the public the truth behind the big-cat trade portrayed in Tiger King. In 2011, an HSUS investigator uncovered various workers at Joe Exotic’s GW Zoo, including Exotic himself, routinely beating and punching tiger cubs in the face, dragging them by their necks and tails, and engaging in other abuse. “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,” HSUS CEO Kitty Block said.
To date, most of the show’s characters have been disciplined for their role in perpetuating the cruel wildlife trade, including Exotic (who is in prision for wildlife violations and his murder-for-hire scheme against Carole Baskin); Tim Stark (who was arrested by New York authorities this week); and Lowe (whose wildlife exhibitor license was suspended by the United States Department of Agriculture, leading to the closure of the GW Exotic Animal Park to the public in August). “Sadly, they are not the only ones who breed and hold wildlife captive for a lifetime of abuse,” Block said. “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.”
In 2014, HSUS investigated two additional roadside zoos and visited Antle’s facility, Myrtle Beach Safari, where the organization uncovered an extensive wild-cat trade network that linked Antle to numerous facilities. HSUS uncovered that Antle bred and sold tigers to these facilities who used the cubs for photo ops until they grew too large, after which they were caged and died shortly thereafter. Amongst other practices, such as routine euthanasia of cross-eyed white tigers (a defect that comes from extensive inbreeding), HSUS also uncovered that both Exotic and Antle routinely send tigers to traveling zoo Ryan Easley’s ShowMe Tigers, with Antle sending animals to be exploited in the show as recently as 2019. “Once again, state officials have stepped up to fill the void left by lax enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act,” Block said. “Kevin ‘Doc’ Antle was indicted in Virginia along with two of his children on cruelty to animals and wildlife trafficking charges. Antle’s tiger mill has been the source of immense cruelty to hundreds of tigers and must be shut down.”
Currently, five states (Alabama, Nevada, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin) have virtually no laws pertaining to the possession of wild animals such as these big cats, and even in places where some legal protections do exist, these laws are rarely enforced. HSUS and Baskin urge government officials and the general public to support The Big Cat Public Safety Act, proposed federal legislation that aims to ban ownership of big cats and the use of cubs for photo opportunities.