Thursday, February 22, 2007

S.C. county passes provisional exotic animal ban

By Charles D. Perry · The Herald - Updated 02/20/07 - 12:05 AM

CHESTER -- The Chester County Council unanimously voted to ban "exotic animals" Monday night because of an attempt by a Rock Hill woman to bring a tiger sanctuary to the county.

The council did not specify all the animals that would be included in the ban, but determined that those details would be included in a written ordinance by the next council meeting. Two more votes and a public hearing are required to make the ban permanent.

Councilman Alex Oliphant did say the exotic animals definition would include large cats, such as lions and tigers. Residents who legally own those animals now will not be affected by the ban, he said.

Last week, Oliphant said he requested the topic be put on the agenda because of the outcry from residents opposed to Lea Jaunakais' proposed sanctuary called "Tiger World."

Jaunakais (pronounced YAWN-ah-KICE) has said the exotic wildlife facility would offer shelter to big cats and would serve as a research site and entertainment park where families and other groups could take guided tours.

She recently purchased land for the sanctuary on Simple Farm Road in northern Chester County.

But many people who live in that area are adamantly opposed to "Tiger World," and say Jaunakais can't guarantee the large cats won't escape. They say they've spent many hours researching the subject and the animals are not suitable for their area.

The council chamber inside the Chester County War Memorial Building was packed Monday night, including people standing along the back wall.

One of Jaunakais' supporters, Derick Wilder of Fort Mill, told the council at the beginning of the meeting that he spent eight years volunteering at an exotic animal sanctuary in Florida that housed large cats. Although he said he understood residents' concerns, he added that there were never any incidents of animals harming the public at the facility where he worked. That sanctuary, he said, benefited the community.

No one else spoke to the council about the topic.

Jaunakais said she didn't speak to the council during the meeting because she just wanted to observe the proceedings and see what was proposed. When council members have more details, she said, maybe she'll speak then.

Because of council members' discussion, Jaunakais was optimistic that they want to talk with her more about the project.

"What was really clear to me," she said, was that "they all wanted to learn more."

When asked if the council's decision would deter her from pursuing Tiger World, Jaunakais said, "No, not at all."

Those who oppose Jaunakais' plan were happy with the outcome of the meeting.

Darlene Steen, a Simple Farm Road resident who has been one of the leaders in the opposition to Tiger World, said she was pleased with the number of people that showed up who are opposed to Tiger World. That group, she said, included Rock Hill and North Carolina residents who own land in Chester County.

Steen said she was happy with council's vote, but she knows the fight isn't over.

"It's a step forward," she said. "But we've still got a long road to go."

The council meets again on March 5.

Charles D. Perry • 329-4068 |

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