SLED issues search warrants at Myrtle Beach Safari, owner says park isn’t under investigation

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HORRY COUNTY, SC (WBTW) – The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) says it issued search warrants at Myrtle Beach Safari off Folly Road in Socastee on Wednesday.

SLED agents, along with officers from the state Department of Natural Resources and Horry County Police Department, went into the safari’s preserve in the afternoon. Bhagavan ‘Doc’ Antle, who owns Myrtle Beach Safari, says it’s part of an animal cruelty investigation for a zoo hundreds of miles away in northern Virginia.

Antle says investigators took DNA swab samples from the cubs, who are about four months old.

“I’ve never seen this much manpower put towards a tiny activity of checking on these three lions,” said Antle. “It seemed enormous. I think this is somebody just in northern Virginia maybe not focused on how the process works.”

Antle says he took in the three lions from Wilson’s Wild Animal Park in Frederick County, Virginia, which couldn’t care for the animals. That park shut down after about 120 animals were seized from it in August.

Antle says Virginia investigators asked South Carolina law enforcement to check on the lion cubs in Socastee, a task usually done at the federal level.

“Generally, we have government veterinarians who are part of the zoological licensing that we have and they come see us,” he said. “They’re our partners all the time. They’re here every 90 days or so.”

According to our affiliate WDVM-TV in Hagerstown, Maryland, the owner of Wilson’s Wild Animal Park and his nephew were indicted on animal cruelty charges last month. Keith Wilson and his nephew Christian Dall’acqua were indicted on 46 counts of animal cruelty after officials removed 119 animals from the property.

This came after a judge issued an order finding that Wilson neglected the animals and deprived them of adequate care. Months prior to that, the state of Virginia was granted custody of every animal seized from the property.

According to WDVM-TV, animal welfare experts testified to photo and video evidence showing dead lemurs in the same freezer as ice cream at Wilson’s Wild Animal Park, animal carcasses covered in maggots, inadequate animal enclosures and contaminated drinking water.

PETA accused Myrtle Beach Safari of mistreating animals after NFL star Odell Beckham Jr. posted an Instagram video in January. In the video, he was playing catch with a chimpanzee and petting a young cheetah at the park.

Antle emphasized that he takes proper care of all the animals and that he’s cooperating with this investigation.

“Nothing about what’s going on here has anything to do with Myrtle Beach Safari, other than that it’s an enormous amount of work,” said Antle.

Antle also says this isn’t the first time he’s rescued animals from other parks.

“I’ve taken in numerous animals from all around the world that were on the edge,” he said. “We’ve rescued eagles that were coming out of Africa. We’ve had chimpanzees, whose mothers laid them on the ground and they’re brand newborns, no one can care for them.”

Count on News13 for updates in this developing story.

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