BOOKS: Suryia & Roscoe

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, June 2011:
Suryia & Roscoe:
The true story of an unlikely friendship
by Bhagavan “Doc” Antle & Thea Feldman
Henry Holt & Company, Inc. (175 Fifth Ave., New York,
NY 10010), 2011. 32 pages, hardcover, illustrated. $16.99.
The color picture on page one of Suryia & Roscoe sold me on
this children’s book before I read a single word of the text. The
image of a smiling orangutan, Suryia, with hairy arms draped around
a dog named Roscoe, is priceless. According to the story, narrated
by South Carolina wildlife exhibitor Bhagavan Antle and Thea Feldman,
an author of numerous children’s picture books, Roscoe wandered into
Antle’s premises where Suryia was riding Bubbles the elephant.


Hearing Roscoe, Suryia jumped down to investigate, then hugged and
kissed Roscoe like a welcomed dinner guest. The two became
inseparable, enabling Roscoe to find his forever home at the
preserve.
The photography is stunning. There is a picture of Suryia
sharing her banana with Roscoe, but the dog doesn’t seem to care for
tropical fruit. The book ends with a short discussion about
orangutans and their vanishing habitat that children can understand.
Of note, though, is that Antle has long had a much better
record as a story-teller than as an animal exhibitor. On August 28,
2010 one of his tigers escaped from a cage at Jungle Island, on
Watson Island near Miami, Florida. Four people suffered minor
injuries, one was treated for a panic attack, and Antle “was
charged with one count of maintaining captive wildlife in an unsafe
condition, resulting in threats to public safety,” reported Pamela
Duque of the Miami Herald.
This was just the latest of a long string of “Antle antics.”
Alan Green of the Center for Public Integrity recited some of them in
Animal Underworld (1999): “An animal handler who has claimed to own
an Exxon tiger is Bhagavan Kevin Antle, who was an assistant to Jack
Hanna during his appearances on Good Morning America and Late Night
With David Letterman. Known alternatively as Kevin Bhagavan, Kevin
Antle, Mahamayavi Bhagavan Antle, Ghagavan Antle, and Dr. Kevin
Antle (he supposedly earned a doctor of natural sciences degree from
the Chinese Science Foundation), Antle also claimed to own the MGM
lion, even though Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc. sent him a
cease-and-desist letter, and he implied in his literature an
affiliation with Greenpeace, until he was told to cease and desist.
“Antle is a self-described big-cat conservationist,” Green
continued, “who presides over The Institute of Greatly Endangered
and Rare Species (TIGERS), which operates a mobile petting zoo,
leases tigers for TV commercials, and charges people at shopping
malls and festivals to have their pictures taken with an animal.
Antle hauls around a crossbred lion and tiger to such places as
casinos in Biloxi, Mississippi. He is also known for owning a lion
who, in 1991, had to be pulled off a terrified model during a photo
shoot in Manchester, New Hampshire. That same year, the federal
government charged Antle with repeated violations of the Animal
Welfare Act, including substandard housing for big cats. To settle
the charges he agreed to pay a $3,500 fine. He was also cited in
Massachusetts that year for illegally displaying his cats, and was
threatened with arrest and confiscation of the animals if he didn’t
immediately leave the state. What’s more, Antle was the target of
an unsuccessful 1991 Tennessee lawsuit regarding his alleged beating
of a Bengal tiger with a wooden shaft.”
Before all that, Antle was in December 1989 investigated for
allegedly abandoning deer and peacocks at a defunct roadside zoo in
Virginia. Antle contended that his father-in-law was responsible for
the animals. In 2008 the television magazine show Inside Edition
aired a video of people swimming with tigers at Antle’s facility.
Antle told Andy McSmith of The Independent in London, England, that
he had been swimming with tigers for 25 years. As there was no
evidence that the visiting public was allowed to swim with Antle’s
tigers, the USDA Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service took no
action.
–Debra J. White

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