Home News “Tiger King” safari owner charged with illegal wildlife trafficking

“Tiger King” safari owner charged with illegal wildlife trafficking

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David Weissman

The Sun News (Myrtle Beach, S.C.)

The Myrtle Beach Safari owner, who was featured in the hit Netflix series “Tiger King,” is now facing felony charges in Virginia related to illegal wildlife trafficking.

Bhagavan “Doc” Antle was indicted Friday following a months-long investigation by the Virginia Attorney General’s animal law unit, according to a news release from the office. His charges include felony counts of wildlife trafficking and conspiracy to commit wildlife trafficking, along with misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty and conspiracy to violate the Endangered Species Act.

The charges are related to lion cubs transported from a Virginia facility, Wilson’s Wild Animal Park, to Antle’s facility in Myrtle Beach, also known as The Institute for Greatly Endangered and Rare Species (T.I.G.E.R.S.). The animal cruelty indictments allege he carried or caused the lions to be carried in a “cruel, brutal, or inhumane manner, so as to produce torture or unnecessary suffering.”

Keith Wilson, the owner of Wilson’s Wild Animal Park was also indicted with animal trafficking and cruelty related to these lion cub transfers. He and his nephew were previously indicted on 46 counts of animal cruelty after 119 animals, including lions, tigers and bears, were seized from his “roadside zoo.”

Antle’s daughters, Tawny Antle and Tilakum Watterson, were also indicted on misdemeanor animal trafficking and animal cruelty charges by the Grand Jury of Frederick County, the release states.

Doc Antle did not immediately respond to a voicemail seeking comment.

South Carolina law enforcement agencies served a search warrant last December on Antle’s facility for the Virginia investigation, and Antle told reporters at the time that agents were just interested in making sure the lion cubs, which he described as “happy and healthy” were the same ones that came from Virginia.

Antle, who already had a large social media following, has gained widespread notoriety since that law enforcement encounter thanks to the release in March of “Tiger King” on Netflix. The documentary series primarily follows the story of Joseph Maldonado-Passage, better known as Joe Exotic, a boisterous exotic animal exhibitor in Oklahoma who was sentenced to 22 years in jail earlier this year for attempting to hire someone to murder Carole Baskin, an outspoken animal rights activist who operates a big cat sanctuary near Tampa, Florida.

Antle has railed against the series for allegedly promoting lies about him and his facility, including rumors about him running his business with cult-like tendencies and euthanizing tiger cubs. A second documentary series, titled “Tiger Kingdom,” was recently released on WEIV and focuses specifically on Antle.

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