Beaufort Liquidation owner Jeff Lowe defends his plans to display lions and tigers at his business in northern Beaufort County thusly: "There are thousands of these cats in backyards and apartments of drug dealers, and without people willing to step up to care for them, they would likely be destroyed."
Perhaps that's true.
Lowe's argument is, nonetheless, entirely beside the point. The outcry expressed across social media and in an online petition since Lowe announced his plans last week is not a sign of disregard for the animals' well-being. To the contrary, opposition is borne of repulsion for a commercial enterprise that seeks to exploit captive animals.
The opponents make the more compelling point.
For even if Lowe's plans to couple the display with a veterinary clinic for low-cost animal care comes to fruition, there's no two ways around the fact that lions and tigers would be placed within a commercial district -- public safety be damned -- to draw customers to his indoor flea market. Such displays are evocative of a less enlightened time when, particularly in the South, exotic or dangerous animals became roadside attractions and were housed in squalid conditions.
Surely, squalor is not what Lowe has in mind. Nonetheless, he plans a 6,000-square-foot enclosure for animals that, in the wild, have entire jungles and savannas to roam. Keeping tigers and lions in captivity and confined to much smaller areas than they would experience in nature might sometimes be better than the alternative. By the same token, a sideshow in a commercial district is not to be confused for a zoo or wildlife preserve.
Lowe's display would be placed at the warehouse and flea market at 5 Parker Drive, near Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, that he purchased in 2013. His outdoor market there was shut down last spring after Beaufort County officials decided not to exempt it from rules that apply to businesses within an air station buffer zone.
The county's decision "awoke my passion for wild animals, so recently I started rebuilding the menagerie of exotics that I kept for many years prior to moving to Beaufort," according to the Facebook post in which Lowe announced his plans.
Stacey Johnston of Lady's Island read that post, then made her own at Change.org, starting a petition calling on Beaufort County Council and Beaufort City Council to prevent the exhibit. Within a day, the petition had more than 1,000 signatures and has since topped 2,500.
Johnston was among many alarmed to learn Beaufort County zoning regulations do not prohibit such display of potentially dangerous animals. Frankly, it's even more alarming to learn common sense is not regulation enough.
Lowe believes he's been jerked around by county government, and maybe he has. However, that does not entitle him to an exploitative and potentially dangerous business, any more than some animals' need for refuge justifies confining them to a 6,000-square-foot roadside attraction.