There’s no shortage of eccentric characters in Netflix’s Tiger King, a seven-part documentary following exotic-animal breeder Joe Exotic’s conversion from celebrity to criminal. But perhaps none is more confounding than Bhagavan “Doc” Antle, a fellow breeder whom Joe considers his “mentor.”
Let’s first take stock of this dude:
He is the founder and director of The Institute for Greatly Endangered and Rare Species (T.I.G.E.R.S) and runs the Myrtle Beach Safari in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
He breeds big cats in captivity, which many animal-rights activists consider to be abusive behavior. He also allows visitors to interact with the animals.
He has anywhere between three and nine wives or girlfriends, depending on whom you ask, according to interviews in Tiger King.
He refers to several of his female staff members as his “ladies” or sometimes “apprentices.” According to a Tiger King interview with one former apprentice, Barbara Fischer, it was implied that sleeping with him would lead to better living arrangements.
He makes these women refer to him as “Bhagavan,” typically an epithet for a deity.
He wanted to grow up to be “some blend of Rambo and the Dalai Lama,” according to a 2015 interview with Rolling Stone. Which, last time I checked, aren’t those two guys’ philosophies kinda mutually exclusive??
He’s known for his bleached blonde hair (and soul patch).
It’s suggested in Tiger King that he might euthanize tiger cubs when they get too old for cub petting. This allegation is not proven.
He’s pretty proud of all the money his business rakes in—proud enough to post about it on Instagram after the release of Tiger King.
He has appeared on several celebrity talk shows and trained animals for Hollywood films.
But here’s what’s wildest of all: This guy is still out there running his park, and he’s hosting safari tours in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic. According to the Myrtle Beach Safari webpage, “Myrtle Beach Safari is not planning to cancel any tours. We are also following the CDC guidelines and taking all necessary health precautions.”
I’m a little doubtful on that last point. We’ve canceled all sporting events, all Broadway shows, all music festivals; we’ve closed restaurants and museums and salons and opera houses; we’ve shut down parades; even Disney World has closed its doors! And yet, somehow, we need to keep the exotic-animal tours open?
In spite of some clearly dubious decisions, Antle has never been convicted of any crimes. Despite a raid in 2019, the park is still open—and operating during this crazy time. Here’s hoping his guests stay six feet apart and try to keep both themselves and the animals safe.
Meanwhile, he's taken to social media to express his disappointment with the Netflix series. A post from Antle on Instagram stated, “It is important to understand that this series is not a documentary; it’s sensationalized entertainment with paid participants.”
The show's creators, Eric Goode and Rebecca Chaiklin, responded to this criticism in an interview with the L.A. Times. Says Chaiklin, "We licensed a huge amount of archival footage and personal footage, and we paid for it, the same way we would pay Getty or CNN. Other than that, we paid for a few locations here or there and a couple of life rights deals, because at a certain point there were like eight other documentaries. Categorically, we do not pay people for interviews."
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