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"Tiger King" Star “Doc” Antle Convicted of Wildlife Trafficking for Illegally Buying Endangered Lion Cubs

Bhagavan “Doc” Antle, who was featured on the Netflix docuseries Tiger King, was found guilty of illegally purchasing lion cubs in what prosecutors dubbed a “cub pipeline” from Virginia to South Carolina.

By Elisabeth Ford
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An animal trainer featured on the popular Netflix docuseries Tiger King has been convicted of wildlife trafficking after illegally purchasing endangered lion cubs, the Virginia Attorney General’s Office announced Tuesday.

Bhagavan “Doc” Antle was accused of buying immature lion cubs in Fredrick County, Virginia for display and profit at his South Carolina zoo, Attorney General Jason Miyares stated in a press release. Antle was convicted last Friday on two felony counts each of wildlife trafficking and conspiring to wildlife traffic.

RELATED: 'Tiger King's' Bhagavan 'Doc' Antle Granted Bond Following Federal Money Laundering Charges

“Virginia’s animal cruelty laws are not taken lightly by my office,” Miyares said. “I’m proud of my Animal Law Unit for their tireless work and I’m thrilled that the jury not only agreed with us but sent a message that Virginia does not tolerate wildlife animal trafficking.”

The jury acquitted Antle of five additional misdemeanor charges of animal cruelty relating to his purchase of the endangered cubs, which occurred at the now-closed roadside zoo, Wilson’s Wild Animal Park, from 2017 through 2019, according to the Winchester Star.

A police handout of Bhagavan “Doc” Antle

The judge also dropped four additional charges against Antle and all charges against his two adult daughters, 36-year-old Tilakam "Tilly" Magnolia Watterson and 28-year-old Tawny Antle.

Prosecutor Michelle Welch said Antle’s Myrtle Beach Safari petting zoo was the reason the animal trainer often purchased lion cubs, calling his arrangement with Wilson’s Wild Animal Park a “cub pipeline” from Virginia to South Carolina, the Associated Press reported.

It was legal to buy and sell lions in 2015 when Antle and the wild animal park’s former owner, Keith Wilson, started doing business together, Welch said. In December of 2015, however, lions were officially classified as an endangered species, which meant the animals could only be traded between wildlife preserves and zoos that had permits for the animals and were part of an established breeding program, according to the AP.

Three illegal cub exchanges between the parties occurred in 2017, 2018 and 2019, Welch said.

Wilson testified in court that Antle would pay him $2,500 to $3,000 per cub, disguising his purchases as donations to Wilson’s Fredrick County zoo, the Page News and Courier reported.

According to Mary Cogliano of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, neither Antle nor Wilson applied for permits with her office from 2016 through 2019, the newspaper reported.

RELATED: Tiger King’s Bhagavan ‘Doc’ Antle Arrested By FBI, Allegedly For Money Laundering

Wilson is charged with nine misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty and 10 felony counts of selling an endangered species, and was expected to plead guilty to the charges Friday.

Antle now faces up to 20 years in prison for the four felony convictions and is scheduled to be sentenced September 14.

In a separate legal issue, Antle was hit with federal money laundering charges in June of 2022. Prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in South Carolina alleged that Antle laundered $505,000 in cash, alongside his business partner, Jon Sawyer. His next hearing in that matter is set for October, according to the Page News.