I was prompted to write this after seeing numerous shares and likes for a publicity video showing a woman hugging and swimming with wild animals. The videos were shot at a facility owned by a certain “Doc Antle” who had gained wild notoriety recently. Not all dodgy businessmen wear suits.
Mahamayavi Bhagavan Antle (born March 25, 1960), also known as Kevin Antle and Doc Antle, is an American big cat trainer and wildlife park operator. He is the founder and director of The Institute for Greatly Endangered and Rare Species (T.I.G.E.R.S.), a 50-acre (20 ha) wildlife preserve in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. He is also the owner of Myrtle Beach Safari, a tour that runs through the preserve. No stranger to controversy, Antle has faced criticisms from animal welfare activists, zoo experts and especially from rivals. He identifies himself as a big cat conservationist though many genuine animal lovers would disagree.
The flamboyant and enigmatic zookeeper shot to fame with a theme park offering visitors the experience of building “closer and more meaningful relationships” with domesticated tigers, lions, elephants, and the like. Those visiting his park can expect an informative guided tour as well as the chance to safely pet the animals. Professional video and photography with the animals is also provided.
Wild Encounters Day Safari Tours can be booked for $339 per person (prices may be higher on peak/busy dates). Photo packages are also available at an additional cost. Apart from tours in the park, Antle also organises 10-day tours to South Africa. However, I believe they don’t have too many tamed lions over there.
As activists point out, all of these programmes and activities constitute animal cruelty. Behind closed doors, the animals must have been mistreated in some way. Certain animal rights organizations have accused Antle of beating tigers, breeding ligers (male lion with female tiger) and placing them in unsafe exhibits filled with sharp wires and nails and failing to provide them with an adequate amount of water. PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) has also charged that Antle exploits his animals and uses them “for harmful hands-on encounters, photo ops, and publicity stunts.” In a 2020 documentary on Netflix, Joe Exotic, a former zoo operator (a rival), accused Antle of killing tigers in gas chambers to make space for further breeding.
Besides wild animals, Antle is also known for exploiting women. His zoo attracts many female animal lovers and some had claimed that they were offered apprenticeships for sleeping with him. Below is an image of one of the women working at Antle’s facility. She is the poster girl for his facility and she is believed to be his general manager Moksha Bybee. Below is an image linked from Miss Bybee’s Instagram account.
Antle’s brushes with the law date back to 1989 when he was fined by the USDA for abandoning deer and peacocks at his zoo in Buckingham, Virginia. In total, Antle has more than 35 USDA violations for mistreating animals.
Antle’s facility was raided in 2019 during a federal investigation involving a Virginia Zoo. Antle had acquired three baby lions from a zoo that was closed after a judge ruled the owner had poorly treated and neglected more than 100 animals in his possession. After paying his fines, Antle was back in business.
In 2020, Antle was featured in Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness. An Instagram post refuting Tiger King has since been deleted, wherein he said that they were “very disappointed that our facility was mentioned in the new Netflix series.” The statement further referred to Tiger King as being “not a documentary; it’s sensationalized entertainment with paid participants.”
It should be noted that Antle had given the filming crew permission to shoot the documentary at his property. He probably didn’t expect the public to react negatively based on what his rival Joe Exotic had said about him.
Antle’s facility also does not make an issue out of Covid-19. For any visitors wondering if their scheduled safari trip will be cancelled because of COVID-19, Myrtle Beach’s website assures people that they are “not planning to cancel any tours” during this time. It seems as though it’s business as usual for Antle in more ways than one. His social media is still chock full of videos, TikToks, and images of himself, his employees, and his animals gallivanting together around the zoo. His tours are still open for booking.
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