You’ve probably seen one or all of the above images floating around the internet. Many of them have become viral photo sensations. But the organization behind them, so-called “The Institute for Greatly Endangered and Rare Species” (TIGERS) has been exploiting animals since the group’s founder, ‘Doc’ Antle, first began displaying big cats in the 1990s.
Mr. Antle claims to have received his credentials in animal training from a science authority in China. As anyone with an interest in animal welfare knows, China is quite possibly the worst country in the world when it comes to laws protecting animals. China’s animal husbandry practices are far outdated by North American standards, and how Mr. Antle was even able to obtain permits to start his roadside zoo is still a mystery.
Yet photos like the ones above have continued to pull at the heartstrings of uneducated viewers all over the world, and support for TIGERS flooded in through Antle’s self-run “donation” program. TIGERS grew in notoriety through such stories as “the orangutang who befriended a stray dog”, and the “chimpanzee who adopted white tiger cubs”.
In truth, it was all a media ploy to draw more attention to the establishment so that Antle could earn more money and fame. The stories covered up an ugly truth: That nothing Antle was doing actually helped the animals he claimed to love.
Yet the publicity stunts continued. Antle began breeding white and golden tabby tigers. These cats are a genetic variant of the Bengal tiger, but the condition which creates their strange pigmentation can only be perpetuated through captive inbreeding. Though Antle claims to be an expert on this subject, many zoologists and biologists disagree. According to Dr. Ron Tilson, head of the Tiger Species Survival Plan, breeding genetically-unfit tigers for coloration is an irresponsible practice which has no place in ethical conservation efforts.
Likewise, Antle has perpetuated the breeding and selling of ligers - a giant cat created by crossbreeding male lions to female tigers. The resulting offspring suffer from the inability to stop growing, even in old age, and their own internal organs can crush one-another slowly and painfully over time. They too serve no conservation-related purpose, but they sure do bring in a lot of cash for TIGERS.
Under scrutiny from well-educated visitors, Antle began launching his own ‘conservation’ programs. At one point, he claimed to have released seven tigers in a wildlife preserve in Thailand.
A single Google search of the so-called “wildlife park” shows that it is, in reality, little more than a roadside zoo. While successful in breeding certain species of crocodile for conservation, conditions in the park are squalid by comparison to accredited North American zoos, and since the tigers are not actually running wild, they are not, in any way, contributing to conservation in their new home as TIGERS would wish you to believe.
Antle has appeared on National Television, has done presentations in front of Congress, and enjoys media attention. In any event where he is painted in a negative light, he immediately responds to debunk all accusations against him, but even so, the evidence remains: His establishment is NOT accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, he is under fire from numerous other zookeepers and wildlife advocates, and continues to breed animals which serve no conservation-related value.
But perhaps the most damning evidence against Doc Antle comes from Alan Green, a former keeper at an accredited zoo in DC, and author of “Animal Underworld”, who has this to say about ‘Doc’ Antle:
An animal handler who has claimed to also own an Exxon tiger is Bhagavan Kevin Antle, who was an assistant to Jack Hanna during his appearances on Good Morning America and Late Night With David Letterman. Known alternatively as Kevin Bhagavan, Kevin Antle, Mahamayavi Bhagavan Antle, Ghagavan Antle, and Dr. Kevin Antle (he supposedly earned a doctor of natural sciences degree from the Chinese Science Foundation), Antle also claimed to own the MGM lion, even though Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc. sent him a cease-and-desist letter, and he implied in his literature an affiliation with Greenpeace, until he was told to cease and desist. Antle is a self-described big-cat conservationist who presides over The Institute of Greatly Endangered and Rare Species (TIGERS), which operates a mobile petting zoo, leases tigers for TV commercials, and charges people at shopping malls and festivals to have their pictures taken with an animal. Antle hauls around a crossbred lion and tiger to such places as casinos in Biloxi, Mississippi. He is also known for owning a lion that, in 1991, had to be pulled off a terrified model during a photo shoot in Manchester, New Hampshire. That same year, the federal government charged Antle with repeated violations of the Animal Welfare Act, including substandard housing for big cats, and to settle the charges he agreed to pay a $3,5000 fine. He was also cited in Massachusetts that year for illegally displaying his cats, and he was threatened with arrest and confiscation of the animals if he didn’t immediately leave the state. What’s more, Antle was the target of an unsuccessful 1991 Tennessee lawsuit regarding his alleged beating of a Bengal tiger with a wooden shaft.
In an article he wrote for the Phoenix Exotic Wildlife Association in 2005 Antle claimed to be a medical doctor saying, “I still think this is your right to have your own tiger and to be killed by your own tiger. Just keep it in a cage forever and don’t let anyone else near you or watch you have it happen. I know this rambled on a bit but I was trying to make several points that are hard to explain. I often say that as an MD., I can talk you trough [sic] taking out someone’s kidney, but I can not talk you through tiger training. You have to live it to understand it. Dr. Bhagavan Antle”
Antle bragged that he had trained more than 400 big cats, so where are they now? If his sordid career began in the 1980′s, and tigers live into their late teens and twenties, most of those cats should still be alive. No show-boating tiger trainer uses cats “trained” by someone else. Unfortunately there are no state or federally imposed census reports that are open to public inspection and not enough inspectors within those agencies to insure that cats are not being killed and entering the black market trade. It is known that the US is second only to China in its consumption of black market tiger parts but there is neither the funding, nor the will to prove where those cats originate.
Though Antle has attempted to refute this information, his weak responses do little to shed the suspicion which most well-educated animal advocates still harbor against him.
Please - DO NOT support The Institute For Greatly Endangered and Rare Species! Your money would be spent with actual conservation groups which do not work for profit.