Transporting certain exotic animals into Beaufort County became illegal Monday, under an emergency ordinance passed unanimously by Beaufort County Council.
The ordinance, good for 61 days, buys time for the county to craft a permanent rule amid uncertainty about the plans of a Beaufort business owner who recently purchased a Colorado wildlife center.
Beaufort Liquidation owner Jeff Lowe, who has caused a stir displaying big cats on his property, said in a Facebook post last week he is closing his retail store and moving to Colorado, adding in a separate comment that he planned to start a zoo, a drive-in theater and a store there.
That followed an earlier statement about plans to bring more than 150 animals from Colorado to his Lowcountry property.
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The ordinance describes a potential safety threat to residents if exotic animals are brought into the county. The language prohibits wild animals more than 50 pounds at maturity and venomous reptiles.
Lowe declined comment Monday.
He has a trial date in July to contest a county zoning violation. The county contends that Lowe's land on Parker Drive near Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort is not zoned to allow the display of Lowe's 12 lions and tigers, though he has proper permits from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The county had no ordinance related to exotic animals. Monday's move aims to allow time for a permanent ordinance to be put in place, in the face of what assistant count attorney Allison Coppage said are mixed messages from Lowe about his intentions with the recently purchased animals.
"What it comes down to is Facebook posts," Coppage told council's Governmental Committee. "So take that for what it's worth."
Lowe said on Facebook the flea market on his property would remain open "until the county forces its closure."
He also announced his family's move to Colorado, "where we look forward to working with all the beautiful animals for which we have committed to caring for."
Lowe said council was unfairly targeting him and driving away business.
"Beaufort DOES have a lot of problems, but me, my flea market, nor my animals contribute to that problem," he wrote.
Lowe first announced plans for a "Safari Flea Market" last November and in March said his facility would reopen.
In one day in early April, 1,000 people came to see the big cats, and Lowe gave 22 tours, he said.
Follow reporter Stephen Fastenau at twitter.com/IPBG_Stephen.