Bhagavan "Doc" Antle, a wild animal trainer featured in Netflix's Tiger King docuseries, has landed in hot water in Virginia. The law has found him guilty of four felony counts related to buying and selling endangered animals. Antle's legal troubles stem from accusations that he illegally purchased endangered lion cubs to display and make money at his petting zoo in South Carolina. Now, he's looking at the possibility of a hefty prison sentence of up to 20 years. However, he's not behind bars just yet, as he's currently free on bond and waiting for his sentencing scheduled for September 14, 2023.
Attorney General Jason Miyares said in a statement, "Virginia's animal cruelty laws are not taken lightly by my office. I'm proud of my Animal Law Unit for their tireless work and I'm thrilled that the jury not only agreed with us but sent a message that Virginia does not tolerate wildlife animal trafficking."
Some more details from the court are pretty disturbing. The prosecution accused Antle of setting up what they called a "cub pipeline." They claimed he was consistently getting young lion cubs from Wilson's Wild Animal Park in Virginia, all the way to his zoo in South Carolina. The idea was that Antle needed a steady supply of cubs for his Myrtle Beach Safari petting zoo.
When Antle and Keith Wilson, the park's former owner, began doing business in 2015, it was still legal to buy and sell lions, Welch said. But after lions were designated as an endangered species in December 2015, lions could only be traded between zoos and wildlife preserves that were part of an established breeding program and had permits. There were three illegal cub exchanges in 2017, 2018 and 2019, Welch said.
Antle was indicted in 2020 on several offenses including felony counts of wildlife trafficking and conspiracy. In August 2019, 119 animals — including lions, tigers, bears, camels, goats and water buffalo — were seized from Wilson's roadside zoo after a judge found that Wilson "cruelly treated, neglected, or deprived" the animals of adequate care.
Wilson testified that Antle paid him in advance under the guise of a donation. He said Antle paid $2,500 to $3,000 per cub with the exception of the 2017 transaction when Antle traded three lynx kittens for three lion cubs.
For a long time, PETA has urged families to stay away from Bhagavan "Doc" Antle's exploitative park, blown the whistle on his apparent "charity" scam, and alerted authorities to bears and tigers languishing in the heat at the cruel, now-defunct roadside zoo where he trafficked in endangered lions. Now that a jury of his peers has convicted Antle of wildlife trafficking and conspiracy to commit wildlife trafficking, PETA will push for a government crackdown on his chronic animal welfare violations and the termination of the federal licenses that keep his tawdry park in business.