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The Netflix doc-series “Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness” documents the downfall of Joe Exotic, an eccentric Oklahoma zookeeper who was sentenced to prison for hiring a hitman to kill his longtime rival. While he was married to two men at the same time, the docu-series suggested he emulated another big cat person who was romantically linked to multiple women at the same time.
Exotic, born Joe Maldonado-Passage, tried to have Floridian and Big Cat Rescue founder Carole Baskin, whom he's been in a spat with over his treatment of animals for years, murdered. Despite their feud, they had some elements in common: Exotic and Baskin both dressed flamboyantly, ran their own big cat businesses (although Baskin maintains hers is a sanctuary while Exotic's was a zoo ridden with animal abuse) and YouTube channels. But, they weren’t the only wild characters (and we do mean characters) running big cat operations in the docu-series. In addition to the mulleted, gun-toting polygamist Exotic, there’s the tiger-collecting convicted-cocaine kingpin Mario Tabraue, who may have served as the basis for Tony Montana of “Scarface," as reported by Mother Jones back in 2014.
There’s also a man named Bhagavan ‘Doc’ Antle who runs The Institute for Greatly Endangered and Rare Species, (T.I.G.E.R.S.) a 50-acre wildlife preserve located in South Myrtle Beach, and Myrtle Beach Safari, a tour that runs through the preserve. The preserve calls itself "a wildlife preservation organization dedicated to promoting global conservation education through entertaining and interactive programs."
Several animal activists have accused him of animal exploitation. Brittany Peet, PETA’S Foundation Director of Captive Animal Law Enforcement told Myrtle Beach Online last year that Antle "exploits cubs for the big-cat petting industry" and "uses animals for harmful hands-on encounters, photo ops, and publicity stunts."
Meanwhile, Howard Baskin, Carole Baskin’s husband, claims in the docu-series that it is the most notorious big cat cub breeder operation in America. Baskin described Antle as more sophisticated than former zookeeper Exotic, who admitted in the docu-series that he was inspired by Antle.
Antle told Oxygen.com that he does not want to be associated with the likes of Exotic nor Baskin, calling Exotic a "drug person" and Baskin an "animal extremist." He called his preserve the most spacious and comfortable one for wild animals around. He said his 22-staff operation takes care of 150 animals, and said they rake in $3 million during a good year.
He told the producers of “Tiger King” he built his operation "for people to have an interactive, up-close, uncaged experience with wildlife." Visitors can pet tiger cubs and pose for pictures with them. Some of his exotic animals even have acting credentials, having made appearances in “Ace Ventura” and “Dr. Doolittle.” One of his tigers and a snake were used during Britney Spears’ iconic "I'm a Slave 4 U" performance during MTV’s 2001 Video Music Awards. However, animal acting in the film industry has since dwindled, Antle told Oxygen.com, due to animal activism. He noted that even in the recent "Call of the Wild," filmmakers chose CGI over a real dog due to "the one percent that will scream bloody murder at any use of any animal."
Peet also alleged that Antle "has a rap sheet of federal Animal Welfare Act violations a mile long." The U.S. Department Department of Agriculture did cite Antle for several violations including failing to provide tigers a secure enclosure last year, according to Myrtle Beach Online. He was raided in December, but Antle attributed the raid to an investigation in Virginia regarding three cubs in his possession, according to WMBF in Myrtle Beach. He maintains he did nothing wrong.
“I am popular, I am so well known as big cat guy around the world, that people who are against people having relationships with animals, period, want to destroy me because I am out there in the forefront so known of being this guy that is in love with big cats and has them love him back,” he told the producers of “Tiger King.”
The trailer for "Tiger King" as well as the docu-series itself strongly suggests that Antle is running some sort of cult-like organization. Maria Tabraue, Mario Tabrue's wife, claimed in “Tiger King” that he has three wives. Others in the docu-series suggested he has up to five and one even said he has nine. Antle said in the series that a "great, big, cohesive family unit" runs his conservation and that many of his workers came on as apprentices when they were teens. In "Tiger King" he referred to a woman nicknamed China, who has been living on the preserve since she was 17, his "long-time girlfriend partner." There was also Ranjnee, who has been there 20 years and Moksha, who has been there for 16 years. All live on his property in separate houses. Antle referred to them as his "girls" and called his lifestyle “complex” when asked which house he himself stays at.
Although the doc-series alludes that he's in a relationship with all of them, he told Oxygen.com that's just not true.
“When I say 'my girl,' it’s a cowboy saying, it’s not that these are my wives," he said, adding that the scene was taken out of context.
As for how many wives he has, he said he has zero.
"Sure I've had girlfriends and there’s girls I have had relationships with that have come and gone over the decades," he said.
However he said he's been single ever since his wife died in a car crash.
“I am absolutely not married nor have I been since my wife died over 20 years ago now," he said. "I’m not married and I certainly don’t have wives. I certainly am a single guy and I live in a house by myself."
He said that many of the young women featured in the film are the girlfriends of his son and grandchildren.
“I do not have a harem," he said. "I'm what they call 'OFG' these days: old, fat and grey. I embrace that character and I am not chasing down women. Twenty years ago I was more of a dashing fellow but even then I was ultra conservative."
Antle said he doesn't drink, smoke or eat meat.
"The cultiest thing about us is that I totally believe that yoga has helped me stay limber and strong and made my life a better thing.”
He added that locals think of him as more of a “country bumpkin than any type of cultist."
“We’re very normal down to earth people," he told Oxygen.com.
Barbara Fisher, who worked under Antle from 1999 to 2007, claimed in the docu-series that to make it to the top at Antle’s preserve, one would have sex with him. Fisher even likened her experience working with Antle to being a suicide bomber in a 2017 Iowa informer piece. She told the producers of "Tiger King" he preferred to be his apprentices' first sexual partners so "they would be bonded to him in this way, where he felt like he could get them to do anything."
Antle denied the allegations and told Oxygen.com that "this is the ramblings of a crazy child who has a lot of, in my opinion, issues and somehow those have boiled up."
He said she worked as a babysitter for his children and that she lived on the property with others who took care of lions and tigers. He said suggested that "maybe she thinks she was passed over or something."
Antle said he feels the filmmakers of "Tiger King" misled him. He said he thought he was being interviewed for a documentary about animal conservation. Antle claimed he was interviewed several times over the course of many hours. He said filmmakers mainly asked him about conservation “while sliding in some of these other questions."
Netflix has not immediately returned Oxygen.com's request for comment.
Antle said his main focus right now is continuing to run the Rare Species Fund, an organization that supports wildlife conservation globally.
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