Mahamayavia Bhagavan "Kevin" Antle

Federal inspectors find zoo vacated with deer and peacocks left behind

Buckingham, VA

Buckingham County

December 1989
  unclean and unsound animal enclosures, incomplete travel and ID records

Kodak, TN

Sevier County

July 1991
  animal trainer not following federal animal welfare rules

Kodak, TN

Sevier County

August 21, 1991
  lion named Arthur bit a model during a photo shoot requiring 50 stitches

Manchester, NH

Hillsborough County

October 9, 1991
  hitting wild tigers

Carver, MA

Plymouth County

October 11, 1991
  transporting a bull and cow without proper health tests/papers

Kodak, TN

Sevier County

December 1993
  animal trainer in violation of animal welfare laws

Kodak, TN

Sevier County

July 6, 1994

Antle, 34 and his high-profile business are in the middle of an ongoing animal-rights debate.

Animal-rights advocates say he routinely doesn't follow federal animal welfare regulations.

Among the charges leveled by regulators and animal-right groups are that Antle doesn't provide proper shelter for the animals, doesn't give them enough access to water, gives incomplete records to federal and state officials and allows the public to come in contact with the dangerous animals.

In a 1991 incident, Antle allowed a Konica lion named Arthur to pose for pictures with a Bedford, NH model.  Shannon Audley, 23, of Bedford, NH was injured when the 6-year-old lion opened its mouth and clamped down on one side of her head. Audley's head was cut, and she was admitted to Catholic Medical Center where she needed more than 50 stitches to close the wounds to her head and was hospitalized for about 5 days.  Audley also had to undergo a series of rabies shots because Antle left the state with the lion and it couldn't be determined if the lion had received a rabies vaccination.

Audley was awarded $75,000 in her lawsuit against Antle, under a default judgment.  A default judgment is entered when a defendant takes no action to contest a claim against him.  Audley was seeking $250,000.  Audley also filed a suit against Bill Melton, the Manchester, NH photographer, but the court dismissed that action.

Antle claimed the model was cut falling off a platform.

Antle and his exhibition park in Kodak, TN called The Institute of Greatly Endangered and Rare Species, or T.I.G.E.R.S., are under a US Department of Agriculture investigation for failing to supply proper travel papers.  He also is associated with a second investigation into the legality of whether interstate transportation and exchange of baby tiger cubs.

USDA inspectors visited Antle's Socastee farm in July 1994 to discuss the separate investigations.

Antle's USDA record since 1988 is marked with investigations and reports of alleged violations.

He was fined $1000 in December 1994 for transporting a bull and cow without proper health tests and papers.

In 1991, Antle was assessed a $3500 penalty to avoid litigation over 7 alleged violations, including animal enclosures that were unclean and structurally unsound and supplying incomplete travel and identification records.  He did not have to admit innocence or guilt as a result of the order.  As of July 14, 1994 the penalty has not been paid.

Antle has never lost his license to exhibit animals.

Animal-rights activists said Antle cares little about the animals or the public.  They believe Antle beats, mistreats and drugs the animals to make them act domesticated for commercials, television, movies and his shows.

"He's out there to make money and that's all he's out there for" said Sue Pressman, a West Virginia zoo consultant who helped write the Animal Welfare Act and who gave a critical inspection report of T.I.G.E.R.S in August 1991.  "He needs to go to jail" stated Pressman.

Update 8/12/91:  The owner of a controversial wildlife park in Sevier County says charges it's unsafe and unsanitary are unfounded.

Bhagavan Antle arrived back in Sevier County from Korea last week to news that a representative from an animal welfare group had visited, and then hammered, conditions at his T.I.G.E.R.S. Wildlife Park just off State Highway 66.

Antle also came home to an outstanding misdemeanor warrant issued by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.

It charges him of letting a tiger come in contact with the general public at a 1990 bodybuilding contest in Sevierville. It was served on him and carries a $50 fine if he's convicted.

Antle said his park, is not unsanitary or unsafe. Instead, he maintains he's the victim of bad press, animal-rights activists and state officials who aren't sure how to regulate his facility.

"It's a lie the United States Department of Agriculture comes here all the time to inspect us," Antle said. "The USDA's sole purpose in life is sanitation."

But Sue Pressman, a consultant for P.A.W.S., the Performing Animal Welfare Society who toured T.I.G.E.R.S. on Aug. 3, said it was rife with violations of the Federal Animal Welfare Act.

"We went through and there were lots of problems," said Don Elroy, co-director of the Tennessee Network for Animals, which invited Pressman to the area. She is a former longtime director of Captive Wildlife for the Humane Society of the United States.

Among the problems Pressman said she found were a host of sanitary (violations, a dangerously low perimeter fence that might allow animals to escape, a fence enclosing tigers that is configured in a way that could allow the cats to climb out and an elephant chained without shade and water.

Elroy said there are also questions the group has about the registration of some of Antle's animals. He said a lot of the problems are already laid out in previous USDA inspection reports of the facility.

"We want to see some demonstration of compliance," Elroy said. "He's not trying to improve the facility."  Elroy also questioned how the USDA could give Antle a license until he was in full compliance with all regulations.

Antle, however, countered that T.I.G.E.R.S. was licensed by the USDA in May and that USDA veterinarians were back inspecting the facility only a few days before Pressman was there.

He said that groups like P.A.W.S. are against him no matter what.  "No matter what our facility looked like, the lady would have complained," Antle said.  He also displayed the USDA exhibitor license for T.I.G.E.R.S. and copies of USDA inspection reports on May 21, 1991, and July 16, 1991.

"A few days before that lady was here, they (USDA) made an inspection, and nothing was said about sanitation," Antle said. "And these men were experts."

The USDA issues the permits for parks like T.I.G.E.R.S.  "The USDA says we pass unequivocally," Antle said. "They said they want us to fix water bowls. They said our weeds were higher than they wanted."

Antle, whose full name is Mahamayavia Bhagavan Antle though he has gone by the name Kevin, is an animal trainer who supplies trained animals for advertising, commercials, film work and shows.

He opened the park on Bryan Road within site of Interstate 40 in late May. It is open to the public.  It houses dozens of animals ranging from tigers to lions, to wolf hybrids, an elephant, primates and some deer. Antle said he also has some animals in Korea, where he has been working on a show involving trained animals for a resort.

The USDA inspection report on July 16, which Antle provided to a reporter, lists two pages of handwritten recommendations of corrections.  Inspection reports dating back to 1988 for Antle-owned facilities - he also owned Buckingham Zoological Park in Buckingham, Va. - have similar lists.

It indicates that USDA officials will be back at the facility to check for compliance.

Antle and his wife, Dawn Antle, said they've responded to most of the USDA recommendations.

He said his difficulties with the TWRA stem from different definitions of the general public. The pictures with the tigers made at the Foothills Bodybuilding Classic were of the winners of the contest and part of the prize, Antle said.

The tiger was secured with a cable, trainers were present and the tiger wasn't wandering around among the crowd, Antle said.

The current controversies swirling around Antle are the latest of many.

Update 7/14/94:  Antle and his business have been the subject of at least eight investigations and 15 alleged violations.

He has been involved in a lawsuit over the possession of a tiger, a lawsuit & involving one of his tigers biting a man who was either a trainer or a visitor to Antle's Buckingham Zoological Park in Virginia. He was a director of the then proposed Nashville Zoological Park in 1989 and 1990 but left before it got off the ground. He's also being investigated by the USDA for possibly violating three regulations of the Animal Welfare Act.

But Antle said he hasn't even been contacted by the USDA about any violations and he is an unabashed animal lover who treats his animals well.

Some of the alleged inspection violations from the USDA include:

Predators were near each other in July 1991; monkeys were next to coyotes and a baboon across from a jaguar.  An exhibit site for an elephant had no way of preventing the animal from entering a highway if it got away from the trainer.

The pit of a young zebra was called inadequate in September 1991

Exposed nails were found in animal enclosures in at least 2 inspections.

An electric cord from a space heater dangled within reach of an elephant in November 1991.

Sharp wire was at the top of the zebra fence in May 1992.

Night boxes were too small for zebras, wolf hybrids and tigers in December 1994.

In October 1991 Antle and his handlers were seen hitting wild cats at a fair in Carver, MA according to the Animal Rescue League of Boston.  Antle stated he hit the tigers when they became too aggressive.

Another investigation found that Angled allowed people to have their pictures taken with the animals, failed to list a cougar among the animals he brought to the state and had overstayed his permit according to Tom French, assistant director of the Massachusetts Division of Wildlife.  Antle at that point was asked to leave Carver, MA within 24 hours.

Antle returned to Massachusetts without the knowledge of wildlife officials under the guise of other companies.  That has led the Massachusetts wildlife department to declare that it would not issue any more permits to Antle.

Antle's Buckingham, VA zoo met state wildlife regulations, said Douglas Blosser, a game warden with the Virginia Game Department but the zoo owner did not have a good reputation.

Federal inspectors went to the park in December 1989 to find it vacated without notification.  A few of the animals, including deer and peacocks, were left behind.  Antle claimed his father-in-law was in charge of taking care of the animals and that he notified authorities.

Antle has sued 2 Tennessee wildlife inspectors after he was arrested and then cleared of charges of endangering the public by allowing people to have photographs taken with the animals.

Update 3/15/95:  Antle was charged with allowing entrants to a body building contest to pose for pictures with a tiger.

Letting people get close to animals that are considered dangerous is a misdemeanor in Tennessee.

Reference:

The Knoxville News-Sentinel

The Union Leader

Knight Ridder

Tribune News Service