MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WBTW) – The director of Myrtle Beach Safari has denied claims of animal exploitation made by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, after an Instagram video by an NFL star.
New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. posted the video Sunday. It shows him and others throwing footballs to chimpanzees and petting young tigers at the preserve.
PETA tweeted its criticism of the Socastee preserve Tuesday night. The group said Beckham Jr. “likely had no idea” the animals “were being exploited by a safari park that has a lengthy record of violating federal laws.”
“Not only was he made to pay a penalty for federal animal welfare act violations, but he has been cited for dozens of other animal welfare violations,” said Debbie Metzler, a supervising captive wildlife specialist for PETA.
PETA also called Beckham Jr.’s post and others like it “cheap publicity stunts,” cruel and incredibly dangerous.
When #Giants player @OBJ posted a video of himself “playing football” with wild animals, he likely had no idea they were being exploited by a safari park that has a lengthy record of violating federal laws. These cheap publicity stunts are cruel and incredibly dangerous. pic.twitter.com/7x6LI2LjZL— PETA (@peta) January 9, 2019
In a statement, PETA also suggested the animals “belong with their families in nature, not used as props by shameless roadside zoos.”
Bhagavan “Doc” Antle, who’s the director of Myrtle Beach Safari, disagrees with PETA’s claims.
“(Beckham Jr.) and his friends came out and just had a marvelous experience immersed in what it’s like to be up close with uncaged wildlife,” Antle said to News 13.
Antle also denies claims about he and his park violating federal laws, saying PETA is misleading by ignoring when veterinarian reports mention minor issues being fixed.
“It would look as though they had said something was going on if you just pulled quotes out of it, and that’s the problem,” he said. “PETA would address people with saying, ‘They were cited.'”
Antle says USDA investigations prove the quality of animal care at Myrtle Beach Safari.
“They come out and inspect us four times a year,” said Antle. “They look at everything. We go back and forth with stuff. We’ve never been found guilty of any violation within the USDA in our entire career here.”
Antle also says the controversy about his park only comes after a famous athlete’s video, saying chimpanzees even play volleyball at the preserve.
“Every day, people play with our chimpanzees here,” he said. “They play catch with them. Odell played catch. Why did it never matter before? It just mattered because Odell got so much press out of it. It’s never been a problem before.”
Doc Antle also released a statement Wednesday.
“As a society, we have lost our connection with wildlife. And, PETA does not want our world to regain that human-animal bond in any way, shape, or form. As part of PETA’s ongoing campaign to provide innuendo and misinformation, they take every opportunity to distort facts and fabricate stories in order to malign organizations such as Myrtle Beach Safari. We regret that some folks are being misled by PETA and others who don’t seem to care for accuracy, truth, and facts.
“But, here are the facts: Myrtle Beach Safari is neither a roadside zoo, nor any of the negative characterizations made by by PETA. Rather, at Myrtle Beach Safari our focus is on animal preservation, conservation, education, and research. In fact, Myrtle Beach Safari has been recognized by the state of South Carolina as one of the pre-eminent wildlife facilities in the United States. We’ve also received national accolades for the critical role we provide with our qualified, captive breeding programs which support global conservation efforts of threatened and endangered species.
“To further correct the record, the federal and state regulators are our partners in ensuring animal welfare. And, we work with them in a collaborative and interactive way to ensure our animals receive the very best life each and every day. Unfortunately, PETA and similar organizations abuse the oversight process to achieve political gain. They file bogus complaints against wildlife organizations such as Myrtle Beach Safari, which are then rightly investigated and found to be meritless. Nonetheless, PETA is then able to claim that the organization was ‘investigated,’ which while technically true, is part of the larger ‘gotcha’ game they perpetuate.
“Regarding ‘citations’ by federal regulators, these are actually termed ‘non-complaint’ items and are very common during routine inspections of any wildlife facility. What PETA neglects to report is that these items are most often corrected on the spot and are not considered a violation of federal animal welfare regulations. Myrtle Beach Safari has ALWAYS been in 100% compliance and never in violation of federal or state animal welfare laws.
“Despite PETA’s shameful and unfounded allegations, Myrtle Beach Safari remains devoted and committed to educating the community, protecting endangered species, and creating special moments that help people understand the importance of protecting these species in the wild.”
PETA also says Myrtle Beach Safari uses sports stars and other high-paying customers like Beckham Jr. purely for profit.
Antle says that’s not true, adding that his conservation fund has raised more than $1 million, including from proceeds of each visit.