‘Tiger King’ star Bhagavan ‘Doc’ Antle charged with trafficking endangered animals, prosecutors say

Federal prosecutors in South Carolina say they have charged “Tiger King” star Bhagavan “Doc” Antle with buying or selling various endangered animals without the proper paperwork.

According to court documents released Thursday, Antle allegedly illegally bought or sold endangered lemurs, cheetahs and a chimpanzee. Antle owns the Myrtle Beach Safari.

The U.S. Endangered Species Act requires people to seek permission to buy or move any endangered species in captivity. According to The Associated Press, the prosecutors said Antle, two of his employees, and owners of safari tours in Texas and California all broke the law.

Charles Sammut, 61, and Jason Clay, 42, are also charged with wildlife trafficking and violating the Endangered Species Act.

According to the AP, Sammut — the operator of Vision Quest Ranch in Salinas, California — exchanged two red-ruffed lemurs with Antle in June 2018, federal prosecutors said.

Antle was also charged with exchanging a chimpanzee with Franklin Drive-Thru Safari in Franklin, owned by Clay.

If convicted, Clay and Sammut face up to five years in prison.

Myrtle Beach Safari employee Meredith Bybee, 51, and Antle also bought or sold two young cheetahs, but the transaction details were unavailable to the AP.

Ante, a South Carolina animal trainer who gained fame in the Netflix docuseries “Tiger King,” is also accused of laundering more than half a million dollars.

According to online booking records, Antle was first arrested by the FBI on June 3.

Antle and Andrew Jon Sawyer — one of Antle’s employees at Myrtle Beach Safari — allegedly laundered $505,000 over four months by doling out checks from businesses they controlled, receiving a 15% fee of the money that passed through their hands.

Antle was featured in “Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness,” a 2020 Netflix documentary miniseries focused on tiger breeders in Florida and Oklahoma. In 2021, Netflix released “Tiger King: The Doc Antle Story,” a miniseries that featured witnesses’ claims of “abuse and intimidation,” according to IMDb.com.

Antle told WBTW-TV in December that the allegations made in the 2021 series were “absolutely false.”

In October 2020, Antle was indicted in Virginia on animal cruelty and wildlife trafficking charges, WYFF reported. Antle faces one felony count of wildlife trafficking, one felony count of conspiracy to wildlife traffic, and 13 additional misdemeanor charges relating to animal cruelty and the Endangered Species Act, according to People.

Three months later, Antle waived his right to appear in court, WBTW reported. His trial is set to begin on Oct. 31, according to the television station.

According to the AP, Antle has a history of recorded violations, going as far back as 1989, when the U.S. Department of Agriculture fined him for abandoning deer and peacocks at his zoo in Virginia. Over the years, he has had more than 35 USDA violations for mistreating animals.