Myrtle Beach animal exhibit under federal investigation

Myrtle Beach animal exhibit under federal investigation
Published: Jun. 4, 2016 at 3:20 AM EDT|Updated: Jun. 14, 2016 at 9:25 PM EDT
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MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - Myrtle Beach Safari is involved in a federal investigation.

The United States Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has conducted 23 inspections at the facility since April 2013. That's more than three times the number of inspections at any other Horry County facility.

A USDA spokeswoman told WMBF News APHIS typically visits a facility once a year.

Businesses are visited more often if there is repeat noncompliance, or if complaints are filed.

The agency said it has 130 inspectors for about 10,000 facilities across the country. It largely relies on people who visit the facilities to point out any issues.

The most recently filed USDA report is currently under appeal. It spells out concerns of a recurring problem of ringworm.

According to the report, two tiger cubs were moved from a facility in Florida to Myrtle Beach in February 2016. The cubs had ringworm-like lesions on their paws. Treatment worked, but it was not a treatment the attending veterinarian signed off on.

Myrtle Beach Safari was given three weeks to update a written treatment plan. It was supposed to include environmental measures to take and public safety issues to address.

In a phone call, the facility's director, Bhagavan Antle, refused to turn over that plan or acknowledge a plan exists.

PETA, or People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, is concerned infected tigers are coming into contact with people.

Antle said that isn't happening. He gave a written statement saying animals treated for an illness do not interact with the public.

The statement also reads, "We have strong objection to many of the statements made in that report."

Antle called its release a violation of procedure because of the appeal underway.

However, WMBF News found the USDA investigation started months before the report of possible ringworm.

It was launched in November 2015.

Antle first denied knowing anything about an investigation during a phone call. The USDA said it informs facilities when any investigation is launched.

In a follow-up email, Antle called the investigation, "part of an investigation into a different facility."

He went on to say, "It is my understanding that they have visited a number of facilities as part of that particular investigation," Antle said. "No info was given to us other than that."

The USDA simply stated, "We currently have an open investigation into T.I.G.E.R.S."

It said it cannot release more information until the investigation is over.

The same month the investigation started, PETA and the Humane Society filed complaints against the facility.

PETA raised concerns over Antle's request to move 18 tigers to Mexico. The Fish and Wildlife Service has yet to grant or deny that request.

"Animals are routinely transported," Antle said in his email to WMBF News. "There are literally hundreds of permits issued every year by USFWS for animal transport."

The Humane Society's issue is a dead tiger.

The tiger, named Sarabi, passed away at a facility in Oklahoma, according to a USDA report filed in October 2015.

According to the Humane Society, it was Antle who sold the tiger to that zoo a year earlier.

WMBF News cannot confirm that transfer, but through this investigation, it was learned the Oklahoma zoo is also under a USDA investigation.

The agency said an investigation can be launched by an inspector. It can also come from tips from organizations like PETA and the Humane Society.

A regional office reviews material and then sends the investigation request to the agency's investigative and enforcement services section.

Read the full inspection report below:

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