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  • Allen Turner

Fair Bluff animal rescue to get clean environmental report; zoning hearings are slated for March 20

The developer of a proposed large wild animal rescue sanctuary in Fair Bluff is optimistic after having recently returned from a visit to a similar facility in Florida and after preliminary environmental assessments show that there will be no problem with locating his venture on the former Fair Bluff Ford property.

Shazir “Shizzy” Haque recently visited Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, the largest facility in the nation accredited by the Global Federation of Sanctuaries, which Haque hopes also will accredit his facility.

“It was very informative,” Haque said of the trip to Tampa. “They walked us through the entire

USDA inspection process and pointed out things for us to think about in terms of constructing our habitats.” The Tampa organization also looked at Haque’s plans for the Fair Bluff property.

“What was incredible about that trip is that we have wetlands on the property where we want to locate,” Haque said, “and they also have wetlands on their property. They showed us how they utilize the wetlands for the big cats on their property, which was pretty amazing.”

He added, “They also showed us the animal hospital they have built on their facility and the different types of machines they have which we’ll be spending money acquiring for our sanctuary. The meeting in Tampa probably was the most informative meeting we have had.”

Because wetlands, which comprise much of the Fair Bluff property, are federally regulated, Haque said that his property will have to go through “the same nuances” that the Tampa facility underwent to gain approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“We have talked with the Corps of Engineers,” Haque said, “and they have confirmed that we will be able to build on our wetlands, just like Big Cat Rescue did on theirs. We will have to have some high land as well, so the animals will be able to move up to higher ground and down again to lower ground, but that was something we already knew. We were happy to learn from the Corps of Engineers that we will be able to build animal habitats on our wetlands.”

Based on discussions in Tampa, which Haque said has the largest wild animal habitat he has seen, he is considering building one large habitat instead of the four or five smaller habitats he previously had considered. “We probably will build one that is large enough that the animals will be happier, large enough for them to have the kind of home they deserve to have.”

He expects to receive an official report later this week that will show there are no environmental issues that infringe on his being able to use the property for a large animal rescue. “The hurricane (Matthew) did not cause as much environmental damage to the property as we had originally thought,” he said. “The buildings did have some mold in them which will need to be dealt with, but we already knew that. There also were some underground and above-the-ground fuel storage tanks, but none of them had leaks, which is pretty good to hear. There are no major environmental concerns.”

The next obstacle before construction of the refuge can begin is getting the property rezoned, and hearings to begin that process are scheduled by the Town of Fair Bluff on March 20 and April 3.

“We have to get the property rezoned for an animal sanctuary before we can accept the deed for the property because we won’t be allowed to build until then. Right now, it’s zoned for highway commercial use,” Haque said, “and the USDA won’t like that because the town could dictate what we could do with the property with it zoned like that. We will have to get if rezoned for an animal sanctuary to satisfy the USDA, but I don’t anticipate any problems getting that rezoning approved.”

Capitol Investments of Fair Bluff, a group owned by Carl Meares Jr., Willard Small and David Small, plans to donate about 50 acres – formerly the home of Fair Bluff Ford that was decimated in flooding after Hurricane Matthew -- as well as some adjoining property to the Columbus Jobs Foundation which, in turn, plans to deed the property to Shizzy’s Wildcat Rescue.

When it opens, there will be between 10 and 20 full-time employees from the outset and 30-50 unpaid volunteers also will be utilized.

Haque, who will move to Columbus County and live on the wildlife refuge property, envisions a facility devoted primarily to big cats, such as tigers, lions, jaguars, leopards, brown and black bears and wolves. “The main animals we’ll be working with will be predators,” he says.

Shizzy’s Wildcat Rescue currently is headquartered in Greensboro, but it doesn’t currently actively operate a shelter. “We have rescued a good mix of both predator animals and prey animals,” Haque says. “For example, we recently got a call to rescue a cow. We wouldn’t turn any animals away.” From its Greensboro headquarters, the group even was involved last year in the rescue of 86 dogs and cats that were relocated all over the United States.

The refuge will be regulated by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, which Haque says has very strict regulations regarding such facilities.

There will be 16-foot fences around the animal enclosures – more than the required 12-foot fences – an additional eight-foot fence around the perimeter of the entire property, so safety concerns and any potential fears about animals escaping would be unfounded, Haque said.

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