Wildlife Turned Wild Life
Antle, who runs South Carolina’s Myrtle Beach Safari, will face a maximum of five years in prison and fines up to $250,000 with three years of supervised release per count
Bhagavan “Doc” Antle, the zoo owner brought to notoriety by Netflix’s Tiger King, has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to launder money and conspiracy to violate the Lacey Act, which prohibits the trafficking of illegally obtained wildlife, including those protected through the Endangered Species Act. The U.S. Justice Department announced on Monday, Nov. 6, that the 63-year-old faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison, a fine of up to $250,000, and three years of supervised release per count.
“The defendant held himself out as a conservationist, yet repeatedly violated laws protecting endangered animals and then tried to cover up those violations,” Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division (ENRD) shared in a press release. “This prosecution demonstrates our commitment to combatting illegal trafficking, which threatens the survival of endangered animals.”
Between September 2018 and May 2020, the report states, Antle directed the sale or purchase of seven animals protected under the Endangered Species Act, including two cheetah cubs, two lion cubs, two tigers, and one chimpanzee. He also hid transactions using bulk cash payments and forged paperwork in addition to directing payments toward his nonprofit organization, Rare Species Fund, which is also registered in South Carolina. This allowed him to classify the payments as donations.
Additional evidence of money laundering was discovered between February and April 2022. Antler was found to have obtained cash believed to have been from transporting and harboring immigrants illegally entering the country.
“Wildlife crime is often connected with other criminal activity, including money-laundering,” said Assistant Director Edward Grace of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Office of Law Enforcement. “This investigation revealed a pattern of illicit wildlife transactions orchestrated by the defendant under the guise of donations and false paperwork. The Service and our partners will continue to hold accountable those involved in wildlife trafficking and other related crimes to ensure the future of all federally protected species. The Service will continue to bring to justice individuals who profit from the illegal trafficking of big cats and endangered species.”