'Tiger King' star Bhagavan 'Doc' Antle has been indicted on wildlife trafficking and animal cruelty charges

Darcy Schild
Bhagavan Antle Tiger King
Bhagavan "Doc" Antle pictured in 2012 with a liger. Jonathan Wiggs/The Boston Globe via Getty Images
  • Bhagavan "Doc" Antle, who was featured in Netflix's "Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness," has been indicted on charges of wildlife trafficking and animal cruelty.

  • Antle is the owner of wildlife park Myrtle Beach Safari in South Carolina, which lets visitors pet and cuddle with tiger cubs.

  • The Office of the Attorney General of Virginia announced on Friday the findings of a months-long investigation, which found that Antle and the owner of another wildlife park in Virginia had trafficked lion cubs between Virginia and South Carolina.

  • Under the Endangered Species Act, it's illegal to sell protected species, including lions, across state lines.

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Bhagavan Antle, a wildlife park owner who was featured in the Netflix docuseries "Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness" has been indicted on wildlife trafficking and animal cruelty charges.

Antle, who was referred to as "Doc" Antle in "Tiger King," is the owner of Myrtle Beach Safari, an animal park in South Carolina that lets visitors cuddle with and pet tiger cubs.

The Office of the Attorney General of Virginia announced on Friday that Antle has been charged with two felony counts in connection to wildlife trafficking, four misdemeanor counts of conspiracy to violate the Endangered Species Act, and nine misdemeanor counts related to animal cruelty.  

Two of Antle's daughters, Tawny Antle and Tilakum Watterson, respectively face misdemeanor charges related to animal cruelty and violating the Endangered Species Act. 

The indictments announced on Friday come after a months-long investigation from the Attorney General of Virginia Mark Herring's Animal Law Unit.

The investigation found that Antle, along with Keith Wilson, who owns a wildlife park in Virginia, trafficked lion cubs between Virginia and South Carolina. Wilson was charged with two felony counts related to wildlife trafficking, as well as 17 misdemeanor counts related to animal cruelty and violating the Endangered Species Act.

The Endangered Species Act states it's illegal to sell protected species, including lions, across state lines.

In a statement obtained by the New York Times, Antle said: "I categorically deny any act or conduct that could ever be considered as 'animal cruelty.' I have spent my entire professional life promoting the welfare and conservation of big cats and other species. I have deep regard and feelings for the animals in my care and would never hurt or abuse them in any way. I look forward to being able to answer these charges and be able to clear my good name."

The press release published Friday from Virginia Attorney General Herring's office also said that in November 2019, Wilson — of Wilson's Wild Animal Park — and his nephew were indicted on 46 counts of animal cruelty. That August, Herring's Animal Law Unit found 119 animals, including lions, tigers, camels, goats, bears, and water buffalo, that Wilson had trafficked for use in his roadside zoo.

The animals that were trafficked by Wilson have since been cared for by animal control agencies and animal rescue organizations, the Office of the Virginia Attorney General stated.

The subject of "Tiger King," former zoo operator Joe Exotic, whose real name is Joseph Maldonado-Passage, is serving 22 years in federal prison in connection to a 2017 murder-for-hire scheme to kill an animal rights activist, as well as on 17 counts of animal abuse, including killing and selling tigers.

Additionally, the Oklahoma zoo that was formerly owned by Exotic, the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park, closed to the public in August after the US Department of Agriculture suspended its animal exhibition license.

Representatives for Myrtle Beach Safari, Antle, Wilson's Wild Animal Park, and Netflix, respectively, did not immediately respond to Insider's requests for comment.

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