By Brian D. Bridgeford
ROCK SPRINGS — Village Board members may decide the future of a lion and tiger refuge located east of the village tonight.
The sanctuary, operated by Jeff Kozlowski, is under court order to remove its 24 animals from county jurisdiction and supporters want to house them at a new center within village boundaries by the end of the month.
Board members will consider re-zoning land on the south edge of the village, Village President Harlan Behnke said. The approval would be conditional on the refuge being closed to the public until proper facilities to handle people, such as bathrooms, have been constructed, he said.
Behnke was formerly the president of the board of the Wisconsin Big Cats Rescue and Education Center, but he has resigned.
Most of the animal's cages are builit and they meet village and U.S. Department of Agriculture requirements, he said. They will have to build a perimeter fence, and the posts and steel panels used for the fence are on site.
Behnke won't speculate on whether the re-zoning will receive the board's approval or not. Some residents have expressed concerns about the center and he hopes supporters have answered their questions.
"That's for the board to decide," he said. "I would certainly hope that it is approved."
Messages left with other Village Board members seeking comment were not returned Thursday.
In a letter to the Baraboo News Republic this week rural Rock Springs resident Melody Hiller reported a new cub had been born at the sanctuary. Kozlowski is acting irresponsibly by breeding more of the animals, she said.
The new cub was born unexpectedly to two of his tigers, Thor and Vixie, whom he received when Indiana conservation authorities shut down a badly run sanctuary there, Kozlowski said. When he received the animals he was told Vixie had been fixed and was unable to produce offspring, Kozlowski said. The two animals have been living together all their lives and he decided not to separate them.
The cub has been checked by the veterinarian and is healthy.
"Two Bengal orange tigers had a white one," Kozlowski said. "The vet said he's pretty big, and he is a big cub."
To prevent further unexpected births, he said he will use drugs or implants suggested by his veterinarian for two years. That period is to allow the cats to settle into their new home. "Then we're going to spay the females," Kozlowski said. There are three females that can breed, he said.
Construction work on the refuge is going well, Kozlowski said, and he is confident it will be ready to accept the cats before the end of the month. He expects USDA approval and move the cats in.
"(The cats) are moved individually, with great care and great safety," Behnke said. "And the USDA monitors that too."