CFAR Is Moving to FL EcoSafaris in Osceola County

Central Florida Animal Reserve has abandoned its plan to build a zoological park for lions, tigers, leopards and cougars north of Scottsmoor.

Instead, the nonprofit organization will move its 50 big cats to Florida EcoSafaris at Forever Florida in Osceola County, President Thomas Blue informed Brevard County leaders Tuesday afternoon.

“We’re going to integrate with their wildlifeeducation center,” said Kevin “Simba” Wiltz, senior vice president. “We’re still working out all the details.

“Hopefully, this is moving towards a happy ending that we’ve all been dreaming and wishing about,” Wiltz said.

CFAR volunteers care for abandoned and mistreated exotic cats at a private compound in Canaveral Groves. In April 2009, commissioners ordered the rescue group to relocate its beasts to a properly zoned location within two years.

The nonprofit organization spent the past 17 months trying to secure permission to build a caged compound off U.S. 1 near the Volusia County border, without success.

Some nearby residents complained, fearing that ferocious animals could escape. One, Patricia Birkhead, e-mailed commissioners last week asking that CFAR staff 24-hour sharpshooters to guard the “cat storage yard.”

Another key blow: In May, Brevard zoning officials classified the Scottsmoor sanctuary as a zoological park. Per code, these facilities cannot construct cages within 300 feet of a
residential property line.

Only 1/2-acre of the 17-acre property met this setback stipulation, Blue stated. Efforts to buy adjacent land proved fruitless.

Forever Florida is a 4,700-acre conservation ranch south of Holopaw featuring wildlife safaris, zipline rides and camping.

Ranch officials have offered CFAR a preliminary agreement to move its cats to the Florida EcoSafaris wildlife center, located near the starting point of the zipline tour, said Matt Duda, spokesman. Lease negotiations are under way.

“We believe this site will present an enhanced opportunity to create a platform of educational activities centered around conservation, as well as alleviate the concerns of those few passionately unwilling neighbors,” Blue wrote in a Tuesday letter to commissioners.

Thursday, commissioners may discuss extending CFAR’s move-out deadline another 18 to 24 months, at Blue’s request.

“It sounds like that’s a better option for them,” District 1 Commissioner Robin Fisher said of the Osceola move. “It sounds like they were having problems with the neighbors. Hopefully, things will work out well for them.”

Sept 1, 2010

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