DISCLAIMER: Here at True Hollywood Talk, it’s worth mentioning that we are 100% in support of animal preservation and do not condone nor encourage any behavior that would otherwise endanger any animal, wild or domesticated. It is for this reason that any statements contained herein should not be treated as bias but as our environmental activism and consciousness

Last week, a months-long investigation into the illegal selling and transport of lions between Netflix star Bhagavan “Doc” Antle and Keith Wilson, owner of Wilson’s Wild Animal Park in Virginia, came to a close, as the Virginia Attorney General’s office recently served its indictment against the two men.

What made this investigation difficult over the past few months, was that this was an attempt to link Wilson’s activities in Virginia with Antle’s in South Carolina. While the indictment shouldn’t come as a surprise to the general public following this summer’s pop culture sensation that consumed entertainment for some disturbingly entertaining reason. 

Tiger King which came out during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown in March, has, however, led to the beginning of a series of arrests which also include Joe Exotic and Jeff Lowe.

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Exotic, whose actual name is Joseph Maldonado-Passage, is currently in prison for the next 22 years for his role in a murder-for-hire plot against the show’s third main character, Carole Baskin, who recently appeared on ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars.”

As for Antle, 60, and his two daughters, Tawny Antle and Tilakum Watterson, each charged with misdemeanors, we predict a gloomy future. Tawny faces one count of cruelty to animals and Watterson is charged with two counts of cruelty to animals and two misdemeanor counts of violating the Endangered Species Act.

In case you’re wondering why we don’t hear more about these types of cases, it’s because it’s rare for states to investigate and prosecute animal trafficking cases. It’s even rarer to follow these cases out of state, as what we have witnessed here with the Virginia AG’s office linking Wilson’s activities in Virginia to Antle’s activities in South Carolina.

And Dan Ashe, CEO of the American Association of Zoos and Aquariums (and former director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) said it best:

“It does bring full circle everything we saw in Tiger King…what pretty clearly looked like awful operations [on the show] in fact is true. One by one, we’ve seen Tiger King stars–Tim Stark, Jeff Lowe, and now Doc Antle–be exposed for mistreatment of animals.”

Ashe’s zoos accredit more than 200 zoos in the United States–thankfully, none of which include any cub-petting attractions like Antle’s. 

What’s the Legal?

On October 8, 2020, the Virginia Attorney General’s office charged the Netflix star with a plateful of (in my opinion) long, overdue charges with respect to his endangerment of wildlife.

August 2019

A search warrant was executed in August 2019 at Wilson’s park, where authorities seized 119 animals, including tigers, bears, lions, goats, camels, water buffalo, and more, according to the state’s press release.

“During a 12-hour seizure hearing held on August 29, 2019, in Frederick County General District Court, animal welfare experts testified as to the inadequate conditions and cruelty at Wilson’s Wild Animal Park and photo and video evidence was entered showing inadequate conditions of animals and facilities,” the release said.
In November 2019, Wilson and his nephew were indicted on 46 counts of animal cruelty by a grand jury in Frederick County, about 90 miles west of Washington, DC.

December 2019

Back in December, Myrtle Beach Safari was also the subject of a search, which at the time, the director of the park believed to be related to an animal cruelty investigation out of Virginia.
 After reviewing the Indictment, Antle was charged with:
  • One (1) felony count of wildlife trafficking, 
  • One (1) felony count of conspiracy to traffic wildlife, 
  • Four (4) misdemeanor counts of conspiracy to violate the Endangered Species Act, and
  • Nine (9) misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty.

The case began with the Virginia attorney general’s Animal Law Unit, which is the first state AG unit in the country dedicated to investigating animal welfare and abuse cases. As of today, the ALU has handled 1,714 animal matters, including prosecutions, trainings, and consultations.

“When I created…the Animal Law Unit in 2015, I couldn’t have imagined the results the team would have,” Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring said in his emailed statement to National Geographic.

This investigation has been a model example of how law enforcement should be addressing animal cruelty and mistreatment. The U.S. Department of Agriculture who is tasked with enforcing the Animal Welfare Act, in its attempts to obtain evidence for Antle’s indictment, gave Myrtle Beach Safari a clean inspection report both the month before and the month after state authorities searched it in December 2019.

The Law

Pursuant to the indictment, Antle was charged on Wednesday with 15 charges, including wildlife trafficking and animal cruelty related to his South Carolina business facility. 

Federal:

  • Endangered Species Act of 1973

  • Lacey Act

  • Animal Welfare Act

Virginia (state):

  • Virginia Code 29.1-564: Taking, transportation, sale, etc., of endangered species prohibited

  • Virginia Code 29.1-505.1: Taking a female lion

This case involves the Endangered Species Act of 1973, initially enacted under the leadership of former U.S. president Richard Nixon. Under the ESA, it’s illegal to sell lions across state lines.

Back in 2016, the U.S. government via the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service added the African lion to its protected class of species under the ESA. Over the past 30 years, lion numbers have declined by about 50%, and the majority of the species and its remaining populations are spread across 10 regions in South and East Africa.

However, Virginia’s jurisdiction, in this case, is limited to only activities conducted within the state. Therefore, it’s up to South Carolina authorities to pursue further investigation into Antle’s Myrtle Beach operation, and federal authorities to pursue investigations into violations of the Animal Welfare Act and federal wildlife trafficking laws. 

What Happened?

Myrtle Beach Safari, Antle’s private safari, gained prominent attention because of the Netflix documentary (if you can even call it that), promoting a cub-petting and loving environment. The 37-year-old facility is run by Antle’s three girlfriends and his two daughters. 

Antle’s foundation, Rare Species Fund, purports to raise money for wild tiger conservation. In reality. It’s anything but, revealing the desperate need of help for wild tigers in America. 

What’s Next?

In a statement to the New York Times, Antle denied any wrongdoing:

“I have deep regard and feelings for the animals in my care and would never hurt or abuse them in any way,” Antle said, adding that he wanted to clear his name.

Gross.

Wilson

Wilson is being represented by the Cavalry Group, a member-based company advocating for private property rights of animal owners and animal-related businesses, according to the organization’s president, Mindy Patterson. Wilson has been a member of the Cavalry Group for five years, Patterson said.
The Cavalry Group believes Wilson to be innocent of all charges and that “he will be cleared when he has his day in court,” Patterson stated.
In an interview with CNN, Antle argues that Tiger King “made a number of false statements about [his] personal life that [he] just let slide off [his] back.

Gross.

The trial date has been set for Wilson and nephew for June 21-25, 2021.

Wilson’s Daughters

Neither of Antle’s daughters has an attorney, Antle said. Speaking for them, he said neither of them would hurt or abuse animals in any way and they look forward to clearing their names.
Gross.

The Humane Society of the United States

The Humane Society of the United States released two statements directly in response to the indictments:
“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’ — Joe Exotic is now in prison for conviction on wildlife violations and attempted hire-to-murder; Tim Stark’s (owner of Wildlife in Need in IN) USDA license has been revoked, his facility closed by the IN Attorney General, and he was arrested this week in New York while trying to evade authorities; and Jeff Lowe (who took over Joe Exotic’s facility) has relinquished his USDA license and is embroiled in legal issues regarding the care of his animals. Sadly, they are not the only ones who breed and hold wildlife captive for a lifetime of abuse. 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.”

“Once again, state officials have stepped up to fill the void left by lax enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act. 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. We know first-hand all about his treatment of animals. Our 2014 undercover investigations at Tiger Safari in Oklahoma and Natural Bridge Zoo in Virginia shed light on the significant role that Antle has played in supplying tiger cubs for public handling programs. Tigers used for breeding at both facilities came from Antle and most of the offspring were sent back to him. We also know that Antle supplied tigers to Ryan Easley’s ShowMe Tigers traveling circus act, which was the subject of a 2017 HSUS undercover investigation that documented tigers being whipped and cruelly trained behind the scenes. Antle admitted on tape to our investigator that he euthanizes cross-eyed cubs, which is typically the result of inbreeding in an effort to produce white tigers.”

It seems the dominoes continue to fall, bringing down what is arguably the biggest pop-culture animal scandal to date.
True Hollywood Talk will continue to monitor the case as the docket is updated.
For more information on the case, please reach out to Andrew at andrew@rossowlaw.com.

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