Doc Antle, one of the owners of a wildlife preserve featured in Netflix’s popular Tiger King series, has pleaded guilty to federal charges of wildlife trafficking and money laundering.
The 63-year-old Antle, whose real name is Bhagavan Antle, admitted to being involved in the illegal sale and purchase of endangered lion and tiger cubs and other protected wildlife species between 2000 and 2018. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Antle also laundered over $500,000 in proceeds from an operation to smuggle immigrants across the Mexican border into the U.S.
Background on Doc Antle and Tiger King
Doc Antle is the founder and director of the Institute for Greatly Endangered and Rare Species (T.I.G.E.R.S.) in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. His wildlife preserve was featured prominently in Netflix’s 2020 true crime documentary series Tiger King.
The show chronicled the bitter rivalry between Antle and fellow big cat enthusiast Joe Exotic. Exotic, whose real name is Joseph Maldonado-Passage, is currently serving a 21-year prison sentence for a murder-for-hire plot targeting animal rights activist Carole Baskin.
Antle’s Illegal Wildlife Trafficking
According to federal prosecutors, Antle regularly bought and sold endangered lion and tiger cubs and other wildlife in violation of the Endangered Species Act and the Lacey Act.
Some examples provided by the Department of Justice include:
- In June 2018, Antle sold two tiger cubs to a person in California for $12,200.
- In July 2018, Antle trafficked two chimpanzees from Florida to South Carolina.
- Between 2016 and 2018, Antle purchased endangered lemurs, cheetahs, and a chimpanzee.
Antle disguised these illegal wildlife transactions as “donations” to his nonprofit Rare Species Fund.
Money Laundering Charges
Antle also pleaded guilty to money laundering charges stemming from his involvement in smuggling people across the Mexican border into Myrtle Beach.
He admitted to receiving over $500,000 in cash from the operation from 2018 to early 2019. Antle laundered the bulk of the money by making it appear to be payments for animal transport and exhibit fees.
Sentencing and Penalties
Antle faces a maximum of 5 years in federal prison for the wildlife trafficking charges and up to 20 years for money laundering. He also could be required to pay $250,000 in fines for each felony wildlife trafficking count.
His sentencing is scheduled for March 2023. The plea deal requires Antle to forfeit over $100,000, his chimpanzees, and a portion of Preservation Station – the wildlife attraction he operates in Myrtle Beach.
This conviction represents another downfall for a key figure in Netflix’s hit true crime series Tiger King. It serves as a reminder that illegally trafficking endangered wildlife can carry serious legal consequences.