'Saving Earth': Is tiger trainer and big cat breeder Mahamayavi Bhagavan Doc Antle, the next 'Tiger King'?
While he may not be Joe Exotic, the uncanny similarities between the two have us thinking that Antle might as well be the next 'Tiger King'
When Netflix released its true-crime docuseries, 'Tiger King: Murder Mayhem and Madness' earlier this year, it broke the Internet. It included a number of curious characters with one thing in common, their love for big cats. But it especially drew focus to Joe Exotic, the self-proclaimed 'Tiger King'. However, through the course of the series, we learned that this unique and flamboyant, gun-brandishing, polygamist, mullet-headed, country-singing, cat-breeder had more to him than met the eye and it was particularly unflattering. The last we saw of Joe Exotic was when he was arrested for plotting the murder of his long-standing rival, animal activist, Carole Baskin and for violating the Endangered Species Act. Since then, one question that has been troubling us incessantly is 'Who is the next Tiger King?' or simply put, 'Is there another Tiger King?'
Among those, appearing in the documentary series is another character that people would find peculiar enough to associate with Joe Exotic and his ostentatious personality. The founder and director of a 50-acre wildlife preserve known as The Institute of Greatly Endangered and Rare Species (TIGERS), he sticks out like a sore thumb in the pack of big cat lovers featured. His name is Doc Antle, a ponytailed entrepreneur who seems to operate his Myrtle Beach, South Carolina animal sanctuary like a cult and is also surprisingly well-known in the film industry. And while he may not be Exotic, the uncanny similarities between the two have us thinking that Antle might as well be the next 'Tiger King'.
For one, Antle calls himself 'Mahamayavi Bhagavan', a Hindu term which means 'Supreme God.' Bhagavan was the name given to him by his mother at birth and the prefix 'Mahamayavi' was apparently a later addition. He's pretty much known as Mahamayavi Bhagavan 'Doc' Antle. An interesting thing about his name is also the fact that the 'Doc' stands for 'doctor', but he isn't exactly a certified medical professional. Antle revealed that he was pretty much a bad boy in his early days and dropped out of high school before he could finish it. Instead of going to college, he traveled to China and studied basic medicine, becoming obsessed with yoga, herbal and alternative medicine, which earned him the nickname 'Doc'. On his return to the US, he began practicing at an ashram in Virginia and even scored a gig as a lecturer at Exxon at the same time, where he also realized the monetary potential in big cats.
Antle acquainted himself with his first tiger in 1982 and it reportedly took six months to train it enough to let him pet it. The two eventually went on to form a friendship and they routinely spent time with each other. Antle brought the tiger to an Exxon conference where awestruck visitors asked him to take photos with the animal. That sparked the idea for his business venture and soon he loaned his animal-handling services to box-office hits like 'Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls', 'The Jungle Book' and 'Mighty Joe Young' and even appeared on stage with Britney Spears during her famous 2001 MTV Video Music Awards performance. He was handsomely rewarded for his services and in 1994, he had enough money to purchase the Myrtle Beach property that is now his animal sanctuary for big cats and apes. By 2000s, the property was worth $1.3 million per annum.
The Myrtle Beach Safari website describes Antle as "widely recognized as one of the foremost animal trainers in the world, having worked with thousands of animals and having traveled the globe promoting the research, education and conservation of some of our planet’s rarest and most endangered species." In 'Tiger King', Antle has been portrayed as an atypical, almost cult-like figure, with Baskin declaring him to be the most notorious big cat cub breeder in the entire country, far more dangerous and sophisticated in business than Exotic. While Joe Exotic's life was depicted in a funny and pitiable manner, Antle seeks the limelight as someone unnerving and potentially sinister.
In fact, after being convicted of animal abuse, Exotic accused Antle of being the worst perpetrator of crimes against his pet cats and even alleged he was euthanizing his tigers in gas chambers, to make space for more breeding. These claims have gone unfounded, though Antle has faced several other legal issues with regard to the treatment of his animals. Yet, he claims to treat his tiger better than Exotic did, but PETA does not see it in the same light. The animal rights organization has time and again criticized Antle, highlighting in a statement on their website that "Antle has a long history of violating the federal Animal Welfare Act, including by endangering the public and by failing to provide animals with needed veterinary care, sufficient cage space, and clean water." As with Baskin's complaints against Exotic, PETA also condemns Antle for his breeding practices and the way his customers handle the wild animals.
The US Department of Agriculture has also cited Antle for numerous violations including failing to provide tigers a secure enclosure, per reports by Myrtle Beach Online. His zoo was raided in December 2016, in association with a Virginia investigation with regard to three cubs in his possession. In a now-deleted statement, Antle denied any wrongdoing and said that his zoo "adheres to all USDA guidelines [...] We have never had a USDA violation." PETA also stressed upon TIGERS' dozens of USDA violations that have apparently been piling up since August 1987. The USDA has reportedly conducted 23 investigations of the park between April 2013 and June 2016. Antle has also allegedly sold tiger cubs to other sanctuaries and unaccredited zoos, one of which was even infected with ringworm.
'Tiger King' touched upon Exotic's personal life, his various marriages, and polygamist tendencies. As it turns out Antle's love-life is also pretty much outlined in a similar way. While he was an astute businessman who makes good money by charging $20 per photo with the animals on his a sanctuary, he was more interested in establishing his own kingdom. Hiring a team of attractive women was a step forward in his venture. He employs an all-female staff at his sanctuary and many of these women are reportedly encouraged by Antle to change their name or appearance and have also been consistently underpaid. The true-crime series cited Antle as promiscuous and polyamorous, with several wives, while he ran a meticulous, misogynistic hiring process for his apprentices. Not only that but he has certain specifications for women looking to be hired. It is not necessary that they should have a qualification or degree, but the recruits are required to be childless and single.
Furthermore, these women don't have any time off and everyone is expected to be within 20 pounds of their “perfect athletic weight or working to get there.” They also have a spartan exercise and diet regime, and none of them should be active drinkers or smokers. Antle has also reportedly mixed business with pleasure, according to one of his former employees-turned-lover. She accused him of manipulating her both sexually and psychologically and claimed that he would encourage his 'apprentices' to have sex with him so “they would be bonded to him in this way, where he felt like he could get them to do anything.” In an interview with Oxygen, however, Antle has clarified that he wears a wedding ring, despite the fact that his wife died in a car crash 20 years ago. He maintained that he was still single and the harem of young women that were featured in 'Tiger King' was merely his sons' and grandchildren's girlfriends.
So, do all of these details add up to Antle's new reputation as the next 'Tiger King'?