By Allen Turner, The News Reporter
Gary Lanier, director of the county’s economic development program, sought Monday night to reassure the two county commissioners who represent residents of Fair Bluff that a proposed big cat wildlife sanctuary there will be safe. Lanier’s remarks came during a departmental update he presented during a scheduled commissioners’ meeting
Commissioner Ricky Bullard, a portion of whose district stretches into the Fair Bluff town limits, said he had heard from some former residents of the town who were displaced by hurricanes in the last three years that they are afraid to return to Fair Bluff out of a fear that animals might escape. “I know it’s probably going to be a good thing. I’m not kicking it, but there is a big concern with almost everybody in the city limits of Fair Bluff about having those wild cats right there,” Bullard said.
Commissioner Jerome McMillian, whose district includes an even larger portion of the incorporated town limits, said that former residents also have expressed the same reservations to him. Fair Bluff officials have voiced concern that a loss of population since the hurricanes will be catastrophic for the town’s finances because much of the municipality’s revenue from state and federal sources is dependent on population.
Although similar safety concerns were expressed by town officials and residents in zoning meetings when the sanctuary was first proposed, those concerns were satisfied and the town government has been enthusiastic about welcoming the animal sanctuary.
“The facility will be safe,” Lanier told commissioners. “You probably heard about a big cat recently killing a lady at a sanctuary near Greensboro, and those former Fair Bluff residents probably have heard about it, too, but the facility where that happened was not accredited.” Lanier said that Shazir Haque (founder of the proposed Fair Bluff rescue) has made sure that his refuge will be fully accredited and meet the same safety specifications as the zoos in Washington, D.C. and Atlanta from which no animals have ever escaped.
Haque heard similar concerns during the earlier zoning meetings in Fair Bluff and successfully convinced citizens and town commissioners that his project will pose no risks to area residents.
The entire facility will be surrounded by a 12- foot high perimeter fence, which is awaiting preliminary inspection from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Lanier said. After the first inspection, the fence will be completed. Inner fences will be other fence enclosures containing the animal habitats themselves.
Not only are the den boxes within those enclosures above the flood level, but also evacuation plans already exist for tranquilizing the animals and temporarily moving them to another facility should it become necessary. Lanier suggested, and commissioners agreed, that it might alleviate safety concerns if the county organizes a field trip to a similar big tiger rescue in Pittsboro, a facility from which no animal ever has escaped.
Commissioner Charles McDowell suggested, and Lanier and other commissioners agreed, that a video should be made of the field trip to be shared with senior citizens groups, churches and other groups. “Y’all need to work on the [public relations], because safety is a big concern for Fair Bluff to get the people back in there,” Bullard said as McMillian nodded in agreement.