‘Tiger King’ zookeeper pleads guilty to wildlife trafficking
Bhagavan ‘Doc’ Antle, who was featured in ‘Tiger King’ and ‘Tiger King: The Doc Antle Story,’ faces sentencing for federal charges of wildlife trafficking and money laundering
Animal trainer Bhagavan “Doc” Antle of “Tiger King” fame has pleaded guilty to federal charges of wildlife trafficking and money laundering, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of South Carolina.
Antle was the focus of “Tiger King: The Doc Antle Story,” a follow-up to Netflix’s immensely successful “Tiger King” docuseries. “The Doc Antle Story” explored allegations of Antle’s involvement in sexual misconduct, drug trafficking and animal abuse.
This is not Antle’s first run-in with the law: In June, he was convicted of wildlife trafficking in Virginia and later received a suspended sentence, per The Associated Press.
Who is Doc Antle?
Mahamayavi Bhagavan “Doc” Antle is an animal trainer and zookeeper from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. He is the founder and director of The Institute for Greatly Endangered and Rare Species (T.I.G.E.R.S.), also known as the Myrtle Beach Safari, a wildlife preserve that offers tours and animal encounters.
Antle first stepped into the spotlight in 2001, when he shared the stage with Britney Spears during her iconic “I’m a Slave 4 U” VMAs performance, per Variety. While Spears performed with a large snake draped over her shoulders, Antle handled tigers in a cage.
Antle made brief appearances on Netflix’s hit 2020 show “Tiger King,” and a follow-up docuseries in 2021 focused on Antle specifically. The show featured interviews from several of Antle’s former employees and ex-wives, who made a range of allegations against him.
What did Doc Antle do?
Antle was convicted of illegally purchasing endangered lion cubs for the Myrtle Beach Safari in October of this year, according to a press release from the attorney general of Virginia. He was sentenced to two years with time suspended for each charge, which means he will likely not serve time in prison. He was also required to pay a $10,000 fine.
The newer charges brought against Antle came from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, meaning they are federal charges and carry higher potential sentencing time and fines. Antle has pleaded guilty to the purchase or sale of two cheetah cubs, two lion cubs, two tigers and one juvenile chimpanzee between September 2018 and May 2020, which was in violation of laws prohibiting the trafficking of illegally taken wildlife.
Antle was also charged with — and pleaded guilty to — money laundering.
“Wildlife crime is often connected with other criminal activity, including money-laundering,” Assistant Director Edward Grace of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Office of Law Enforcement, said in a press release. “This investigation revealed a pattern of illicit wildlife transactions orchestrated by the defendant under the guise of donations and false paperwork.”
Where is Doc Antle now?
Now that Antle has pled guilty to the charges against him, he awaits sentencing from U.S. District Judge Joseph Dawson III for the District of South Carolina, per the district’s statement.
Antle faces up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 per each count. A sentencing date has not yet been announced.