Story posted Feb 14, 2007 – 08:27:48 EST
By Stephen Guilfoyle / Editor
Chester County residents concerned about a proposal to bring what is being called a tiger sanctuary packed a meeting room in Lowrys Tuesday night.
They heard the plan from the Rock Hill woman who wants to bring the sanctuary, quizzing her extensively, while a few treated her proposal with disdain.
They also found out late in the meeting that Lea Marianne Jaunakais will not being presenting her plan to the Chester County Planning Commission next week, with County Council signing off or rejecting the plan in three subsequent meetings.
Jaunakais on Monday changed her request. Instead of getting the 40 or so acres she now owns on Simple Farm Road rezoned from residential 2 to agricultural, a process which involves both the Planning Commission and Chester County Council, she instead has requested a special exception to the county’s R-2 zoning classification Getting a special exception granted requires one hearing, before the County’s Zoning Board of Appeals.
That hearing will be held in March.
Jaunakais laid out her background and plan for the facility she is calling Tiger World.
She said it will exceed federal regulations for an animal containment facility.
The 40-acre tract will be surrounded by an 8-foot fence with 18 inches of barbed wire, she said. That is required in federal law. The fence is designed to keep intruders out of the facility, which she said will be an educational preserve designed to teach people about the threat of extinction and endangered species.
Inside, she will have containment areas for individual tigers and lions and other animals. She said she would have about 11 if she is given approval. It would take at least six months to build her facility after approval is given, and she would have to pass an inspection from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service before she is given a federal license to operate her facility.
She said the federal standards are “stringent” but she would exceed them.
Each containment area would have a 12-foot fence according to the federal regulations. She said hers would be 14-feet tall, 2 feet in excess of federal regulations. The containment areas would have pits in which the animals could be locked down in case of extreme weather like a hurricane or tornado. Each area has double doors, as does the entrance to the larger preserve.
She said she has a brother who has been trained by a security service that trains the Secret Service, and he would help install security cameras with motion detectors, sound detectors and nigh vision.
The elaborate camera system is not required by the Animal Welfare Act, she said.
She would have five workers, with three on shift at any given time. She would only be required to have one per 10 animals under the federal law.
All those factors coming together made her guarantee, several times, that nothing would ever go wrong at Tiger World.
While she gave a long presentation and had obvious enthusiasm the project she calls her lifelong dream, she answered many questions, but did not give direct answers to some direct questions.
She was asked how many big cats she owned, but answered by saying she had 11 that she would bring to the facility.
She was asked if she had a license already to exhibit animals and said she exhibits animals under someone else’s license. She said her cats are currently in a North Carolina private facility, but would not say the name of that facility or who owns it.
Opponents were led by Johnny Stephenson, Darlene Steen and Ginny Sloan. Sloan, the county’s 911 and Ambulance service director, acted as spokeswoman for the group. She urged the audience to be respectful and hear Jaunakais out.
Sloan had several questions for Jaunakais after she was done.
She tried to establish whether Jaunakais cats were at a facility called Metrolina Wildlife in Rockwell, N.C. That facility was raided in July by North Carolina Wildlife Division officers after several complaints were made.
Jaunakais admitted she has a continuing association with Metrolina, but denied her cats were there or that she operated under the license of Petrolia’s owner.
She was repeatedly pressed to identify the location her cats are currently situated in, so that Sloan said, they could check some references. She was also pressed repeatedly for the license under which she operates, either the name or the license number. She agreed that the license would be a public record, but she said she was asked not to identify the license holder or the neighborhood. She said she would ask the neighbors if they wanted to contact the group.
Parroting the county’s economic development them, Jaunakais said she chose Chester because as she was searching several counties for a location for her cats, she found county residents and workers to be friendly and pleasant. She also admitted that she didn’t try to put her facility in York County because it has an ordinance against exotic animals.
She said she made contacts with several public officials there but could not get them to budge on changing the ordinance.
She works in Rock Hill at plant for her father, who was at the meeting Tuesday night.
He said, in answer to a question from the audience, that he was paying for her shelter, but she said second later that she had several backers.
She said she would invest at least $300,000 to get the faculty up and running.
When asked about noise, she said tigers don’t roar, but some of her lions do, in the morning.
She said she would get about 300 pounds of turkey and chicken to feed her cats each day. She had already reached an agreement with a local provider, she said, to buy locally. She declined to say who would act as the butcher for the cats, but said she would pick up the food stuff each day.
She said the cats eat everything raw, but it must be dead according to USDA regulations. She said the waste from the cats would be removed daily, store in dumpsters. She said there tiger and lion urine would just be allowed to soak into the ground.
An associate said they would have to turn the soil over frequently.
An official with the Minnesota Zoo contacted by The News & Reporter Monday disputed some of the claims made by Jaunakais in the handling.
He said neighbors would have to get used to constant roaring from the tigers in the summer. Jaunakais said the tigers don’t really roar.
Ron Tilson, director of conservation for the Minnesota Zoo said big cat urine and feces are particularly “pungent.”
When asked about tiger mauling incidents by a Florida handler of big cats who had a tiger that killed two other trainers, one his wife, Jaunakais said she was proud to have been trained by that man after the tiger killed two people.
She said the tiger was kept on a dog leash on at least one incident and was found to be severely inbred.
One of Jaunakais’ prize cat is a white tiger, but Tilson said all white tigers in captivity are to some extent inbred. All are descended from a white tiger captured in India in 1951.
The discussion got heated at some times, but Sloan got the crowd back in line. Jaunakais, her parents and a few supporters were asked to leave, and the people remaining talked for a few moments.
Some said there were more questions than answers. They all agreed they wanted to fight to keep the sanctuary out of the county.
They agreed to have members contact the members of the Zoning Board of Appeals and lobby and to turn out in large numbers for the hearing in March.
That’s what it is going to take, Johnny Stephenson said.