|RICHMOND (October 9, 2020) – Following an investigation by Attorney General Mark R. Herring’s animal law unit, Bhagavan “Doc” Antle, the owner of Myrtle Beach Safari, has been charged with one felony count of wildlife trafficking, one felony count of conspiracy to wildlife traffic, four misdemeanor counts of conspiracy to violate the Endangered Species Act, and nine misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty, and Keith A. Wilson, owner of Wilson’s Wild Animal Park, has been charged with one felony count of wildlife trafficking, one felony count of conspiracy to wildlife traffic, four misdemeanor counts of violating the Endangered Species Act, four misdemeanor counts of conspiracy to violate the Endangered Species Act, and nine misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty.
Additionally, two of Doc Antle’s daughters have also been charged: Tawny Antle has been charged with one misdemeanor count of cruelty to animals and one misdemeanor count of violating the Endangered Species Act, and Tilakum Watterson has been charged with two misdemeanor counts of cruelty to animals and two misdemeanor counts of violating the Endangered Species Act. Antle, Wilson, and Antle’s daughters were all charged by the Grand Jury of Frederick County.
The indictments come after a months-long investigation by Attorney General Herring’s Animal Law Unit into the relationship between Antle and Wilson found that both men trafficked lion cubs between Virginia and South Carolina. This investigation included the execution of a search warrant at Antle’s South Carolina property in December 2019 by the South Carolina Law Enforcement Agency.
In November 2019, Attorney General Herring announced that Keith Wilson and his nephew Christian Dall’Acqua had both been indicted on 46 counts of animal cruelty by a grand jury in Frederick County. A trial date has been set in the Wilson and Dall’Acqua case for June 21-25, 2021. In August 2019, Attorney General Herring’s Animal Law Unit secured custody of 119 animals that were seized from Wilson’s “roadside zoo” after a judge issued an order finding that Wilson “cruelly treated, neglected, or deprived the animal[s] of adequate care.”
The animals were seized during execution of a search warrant on August 15-16, 2019 at Wilson’s Wild Animal Park. The seized animals included lions, tigers, bears, camels, goats, water buffalo, and more. The animals are currently in the care of animal control agencies and exotic and agricultural animal rescue partner organizations.
During a 12 hour seizure hearing held on August 29, 2019 in Frederick County General District Court, animal welfare experts testified as to the inadequate conditions and cruelty at Wilson’s Wild Animal Park and photo and video evidence was entered showing inadequate conditions of animals and facilities.
The case is being handled by Senior Assistant Attorney General K. Michelle Welch, the head of Attorney General Herring’s Animal Law Unit, who was appointed special prosecutor for the case, and Assistant Attorney General Kelci Block.
Criminal indictments are only charges and not evidence of guilt. Antle, Wilson, and Aantle’s daughters are presumed to be innocent until and unless proven guilty.