Spoilers for Tiger King ahead. Netflix's latest stranger-than-fiction true crime documentary, Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness, featured an ensemble cast of weird, larger-than-life characters. Among the most memorable, however, was Bhagavan "Doc" Antle, the ponytail-wearing, elephant-riding, Myrtle Beach-based polygamist/big cat enthusiast.
For anyone still unfamiliar with Tiger King, the seven-part docuseries, which dropped on March 20, followed Joe Exotic (real name Joseph Maldonado-Passage), an openly gay, Oklahoma man who operated a private zoo that was, at one point, home to as many as 90 tigers and 1,000 exotic animals. While the series' main narrative focused on the contentious relationship between Joe and his nemesis, animal rights activist Carole Baskin, the filmmakers included interviews with several other notable players in the Big Cat ownership battle, which is where Antle, who operates the Myrtle Beach Safari in South Carolina, comes in. Although Tiger King ends with Joe Exotic serving time in prison after being convicted of, among other things, a murder-for-hire plot against Baskin, Antle's fate is left a little less clear. Here's what Doc is up to in wake of the documentary.
Who is Doc Antle?
Let's start at the beginning, with a little more background information about who, exactly, Doc Antle is. It's worth a deep dive, because he's an objectively fascinating character.
According to his personal website, docantle.blog, Antle is a "world renowned animal trainer and behaviorist who has devoted his life’s work to establishing intimate personal relationships with some of the planet’s most amazing animals." He's the Founder and Director of The Institute for Greatly Endangered and Rare Species (or "T.I.G.E.R.S." for short—GET IT?) in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Antle's official bio also lists executive director of the non-profit conservation organization, the Rare Species Fund (RSF), among his titles and claims that he's raised "more than $1 million for select wildlife conservation projects around the world."
Antle was born Mahamayavi Bhagavan Antle (but went by "Kevin" in school) in Phoenix, Arizona in 1960, and grew up, in large part, on his parents’ cattle ranch in Southern California, where he developed his lifelong love for animals. According to the bio on his website, Antle traveled to China "as a young man" and obtained a doctoral degree in Chinese medicine—thus the nickname "Doc."
Is Antle an animal trainer?
In Tiger King, Antle shares several stories about his time working as an animal trainer for film and television. His Hollywood clientele reportedly include Britney Spears (for that iconic 2001 MTV VMA performance), P. Diddy, Ashanti (presumably, at least—Antle spells her name "Ashante" on his website), and Janet Jackson. His team of animal actors have reportedly been featured in a number of big budget movies, including Dr. Dolittle, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, and Mighty Joe Young. In 2015, Antle's work in Hollywood was featured in a video for Rolling Stone.
According to Antle's IMDb page, his last major movie credit as an animal wrangler was 2005's The Notorious Bettie Page.
How many girlfriends does Antle have?
One of the most intriguing things about Antle's lifestyle for many Tiger King viewers was his romantic life. The docuseries featured one segment of several interviewees guessing wildly at how many wives or girlfriends he had. While Antle is not, strictly speaking, a polygamist (since he doesn't appear to have actually wed any of his partners), he does admit to having simultaneous relationships with several women.
After Tiger King premiered on Netflix, Antle shared a group photo of the Myrtle Beach Safari staff, along with a second version of the photo which was numbered and included a key, identifying most of the people pictured by their relationship to him.
Antle's known girlfriends China York, Moksha Bybee, and Rajani Ferrante (whose real names were Michelle, Meredith, and Renee, respectively, according to the docuseries) are all pictured and not identified by their relationship to Antle (China is identified as "Amy York's sister" and Amy is also pictured).
While it's impossible to say which, if any, of the other women in the picture are romantically involved with Antle, three others—Casey Maskell, Holly Hughes, and Amy York—are not explicitly identified by another relationship that would seem to preclude them as potential girlfriends.
In an interview Vanity Fair shortly after Tiger King's premiere, Antle responded to the docuseries' implication that his relationships with the women who work with him on his compound may be manipulative at best and abusive at worst.
"That’s fresh," he said during what Vanity Fair described as a 'rambling hour-long phone call.' "I’ve got people popping out of the woodwork, welders, contractors, and people I’ve paid millions of dollars to, to enrich my facility…. They know us so well…and not a soul ever imagined that there is a cult going on here. There are a lot of cute girls here, because the conservation movement does draw in cute girls. But those cute girls have nothing to do with this old fat guy running the place....Back in the day, when I was in my 30s, 40s, sure, tons of women were hitting on me all the time. I’m a wealthy tiger guy. It certainly created an atmosphere."
What does Antle think of Tiger King?
Antle is, as you might expect if you've seen the documentary, not entirely thrilled with his inclusion. According to Vanity Fair, Antle says he retained a lawyer after seeing the trailer for the documentary but that, after watching the first "few" episodes of the series, said it was "not as bad as I thought."
In a post on Instagram after the series aired, Antle elaborated much more, writing:
"The staff at @myrtlebeachsafari and Angada the chimp (everyone was busy)
We are very disappointed that our facility was mentioned in the new Netflix series. We can only assume it is because Doc Antle has been such a high profile wildlife personality for so many decades that his association would create more buzz. It is important to understand that this series is not a documentary; it’s sensationalized entertainment with paid participants. Tiger King is the bizarre story of Joe and Carole and their feud. These characters are not representative of experts in the wildlife sector or world class facilities like ours here in Myrtle Beach.
Myrtle Beach Safari has been recognized by the state of South Carolina as one of the pre-eminent wildlife facilities in the United States. We’ve also received international accolades for the critical role we provide with our qualified, captive breeding programs and our global conservation efforts of threatened and endangered species.
Myrtle Beach Safari adheres to all USDA guidelines, and our animals are treated with the utmost care. We have never had a USDA violation and work collaboratively with various state and federal wildlife agencies to ensure our animals receive the very best life each and every day.
Over the decades we have heard every sort of fantasy scenario regarding our facility. Many of these less-than-flattering mistruths have been manufactured by those in the animal rights movement that oppose animal ambassador programs of any sort.
In the end, we hope you will come visit us and judge for yourself. Every visitor to our facility quickly recognizes the magical place we have created. All cubs are cared for cradle to grave the wild accusation that we would ever euthanize a cub is manufactured sensationalism. It’s a complete fabrication that A tiger looses its value at a certain age they all have a place. It’s Also illegal, immoral, and unjust. We remain open during these challenging times with both Day and Night Safari options. Our tours are held outdoors and our 50 acre preserve provides plenty of area for social distance. Check out tour dates and options at myrtlebeachsafari.com."
What happened to Antle after Tiger King?
In December 2019, Tommy Crosby, the spokesperson for the South Carolina State Law Enforcement Division, confirmed that agents had served search warrants to Myrtle Beach Safari. According to a report from ABC 15 News at the time, Antle claimed that the authorities had converged on Myrtle Beach Safari because there were lions in the park that were the descendants of lions from a different park that had been closed following animal cruelty charges.
In its report on the raid, WMBF News wrote that, "Bhagavan 'Doc' Antle has a rap sheet of federal Animal Welfare Act violations a mile long, exploits cubs for the big-cat petting industry, has ties to unscrupulous characters like convicted murder-for-hire and big-cat trafficking culprit Joe Maldonado-Passage, and uses animals for harmful hands-on encounters, photo ops, and publicity stunts. PETA has been on his case for years, and it’s long past time that authorities paid him and his shady business a visit."
In spite of the legal issues and negative attention following Tiger King, however, Antle’s zoo is still currently open to the public.
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