The Tiger King universe just keeps getting stranger and stranger. As Netflix fans find themselves inexplicably drawn to the story of the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Memorial Park, more details about the people surrounding Joe Exotic are popping up as each day passes. The employees of the exotic zoo are just as interesting as their former boss, with personal and professional lives that might merit a followup to the Netflix documentary series.
Bhagavan “Doc” Antle is one of those intriguing characters. Introduced as a fellow exotic animals expert and enthusiast, only a snippet of Antle’s story was shared in the docu-series. As it turns out, we’ve actually seen him before.
Remember Britney Spears’ iconic performance at the 2001 MTV Video Music Awards? Of course you do — it was a cultural reset. The singer took to the stage to perform “I’m a Slave 4 U,” a giant snake resting on her shoulders. The Burmese python wasn’t the only exotic animal onstage, however; a golden tabby tiger also appeared alongside Spears in a giant cage. And Antle was its handler, making sure the animal was on its best behaviour during the show.
“[Britney] was the golden child for that,” Antle recalled the performance in his 2015 Rolling Stone feature. “She came in and did exactly what she had to: climb into a cage and dance with a big, adult tiger.”
Spears' Tiger King connection doesn't stop with Antle — she was also pictured at the 2002 VMAs sitting next to a woman bearing eerily similar resemblance to Exotic's nemesis Carole Baskin, animal print and all. One Twitter user unearthed the throwback image, with others replying to the thread with an important inquiry: "Damn, who's the real tiger king?"
Antle might say that the title belongs to him. His academic background might be debatable (no one’s really sure that he’s an actual doctor), but his resume is not. Throughout the 2000s, Antle worked as a professional animal handler and trainer, lending his services and his animals to numerous productions. His credits include Ace Ventura, The Jungle Book, Dr. Dolittle, and music videos for the likes of Janet Jackson and Diddy.
Antle currently runs the Myrtle Beach Safari. The facility has been criticized by different animal advocacy groups for years that claim Antle has not been adhering to the federal Animal Welfare Act. "No one’s ever had a program as effective as we have, as long as we’ve had, and as carefully produced over the years,” Antle told Vanity Fair. "I have been running our own conservation program for 38 years. I have been trying to figure out what can be done to save tigers many many decades."
Tiger King may have catapulted him back into the spotlight thanks to its twisty plot and meme-worthy figures, but Antle has been in the game for a long, long time.