Owners of two Grand Strand wildlife sanctuaries agree on the merits of proposed S.C. state legislation that would prohibit the keeping of large exotic animals as pets.
If signed into law, a bill that has passed the S.C. House of Representatives Agriculture Committee would effect a ban next year, but it does not cover zoos, which already are subject to federal regulations.
Bhagavan “Doc” Antle, owner of Myrtle Beach Safari, an area wildlife preserve, and Cindy Hedrick, co-owner of S.C. Coastal Animal Rescue and Educational Sanctuary, near Georgetown, each praised the proposed measure.
Antle, whose safari — also known as TIGERS — The Institute of Greatly Endangered and Rare Species — said Tuesday that he and colleagues have talked with, and played host to, state and federal lawmakers to reiterate the right ways to provide the right environment for such animals as apes and big cats, which also provides the means to give a “great education” to the public for highlighting the importance of these animal “ambassadors” and to raise awareness of their plight for survival, and their value in helping preservation efforts around the world.
Citing reasons that South Carolina should not remain among a “handful of states” without any regulations, Antle said he stays in contact with fish and game officials and veterinarians, and that this state is fortunate in that such a problem of people keeping such large animals as pets is not prevalent. He said South Carolina has stayed “very stable … for more than a decade in this regard.”
Antle, who in 1982 founded the Rare Species Fund (www.rarespeciesfund.org) to help endangered wildlife around the world such as elephants, rhinos, orangutans and other big cats, also explained another danger to the animal and an individual who tries rearing such a large creature from juvenile stages, and the reason why such circumstances compromise safety and do not pan out: “Warm and fuzzy” gives people a false comfort level “to drop their guard.”
He said raising and keeping lions and tigers, as Myrtle Beach Safari has done through its preserve since the early 1990s, “takes a real careful set of protocols.” The safari continues to show passers-by its wildlife up close for free at its “Preservation Station” at Barefoot Landing in North Myrtle Beach. Antle said that site will open March 3 for a new season, as will sales of “Wild Encounter Tours,” from March 4 into October for three-hour excursions by reservation on the preserve a few miles south, where tours begun more than a decade ago (www.myrtlebeachsafari.com).
Hedrick, on a break Monday morning from her duties attending to the residents at SC-CARES, called the proposed law “perfect.”
She said her family sanctuary already has to meet standards enforced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and S.C. Department of Natural Resources.
Voicing her surprise that personal keeping of large, exotic animals as pets was not subject to regulation in South Carolina, Hedrick said the proposed legislation excites her and that “I hope it passes.”
Hedrick said for any such animals caught in unsafe, unhealthy circumstances in captivity that could imperil them and people, the wildlife “should be free to live their lives in areas where they were meant to be.”
She also said for such handlers who make such poor choices as pets, and “the sad lives they put these animals in,” where they could pose dangers if they are out of their confines, “it all boils down to money,” also stemming from a market of unlawful trade and transport of such creatures.
The Humane Society of the United States saying captive bred animals “are still wild animals” is correct, Hedrick said.
“I hope in years to come,” Hedrick said, “that the idea of people having any exotic pets will be something people would not have any need to think about.”
Details on SC-CARES tours, to see formerly abused, neglected and unwanted exotic and farm animals and non-releasable wildlife, by appointment, at 843-546-7893 or www.sc-cares.org.
Contact Steve Palisin at 843-444-1764.