DEADWOOD — The Lawrence County Commission voted four to one Tuesday to allow the Spirit of the Hills Wildlife Sanctuary just outside of Spearfish to accept four new tigers that will be arriving from Ohio as part of a rescue operation.
The facility currently has seven tigers on site, with a maximum number of nine set in 2009 in a document provided to the county by the sanctuary board. The four new tigers will take the Spirit of the Hills Animal Sanctuary’s total tiger numbers to 11, or two over the maximum allowance, as stated in that document.
Dr. David Elsom, who provides veterinarian care at the facility said that more important than the numbers in determining whether or not to accept animals is the amount of available enclosures.
“Numbers are not absolute things,” Elsom said. “The numbers are not set in stone, depending on how you house them.”
Because three tigers and one lion passed away over the winter, there are three empty enclosures available to house the incoming tigers.
“Your concern is that this is more enclosure-driven,” said Lawrence County Commission Chair Brandon Flanagan. “There are currently three open enclosures and you need two enclosures for the animals that are coming in.”
“Yes. There are two males and two females, so we’ll be able to house them in two enclosures,” Elsom said.
“The South Dakota Animal Industry Board is OK with it and the USDA requested it,” said Lawrence County Planning and Zoning director Amber Vogt.
Commissioner Bob Ewing, who was the dissenting vote on allowing the tigers into the sanctuary, wanted to tour the facility prior to the commission making a decision.
But the tigers could arrive as soon as 10 days from now, not allowing for adequate time for the commission to tour the facility.
Ohio state laws will be changing Jan. 14, 2014, making the unlicensed ownership of tigers and other exotics illegal.
Elsom said he fully expected the USDA to make the request.
“They’re under great pressure right now because of the Ohio situation,” Elsom said. “Now facilities like ours have to be licensed like we are in the state of South Dakota, which means they must acquire state licensure and USDA licensure.”
Elsom added that the facilities at the Spirit of the Hills Wildlife Sanctuary are more than adequate to accommodate the exotic animals safely and are beyond what the USDA requires.
The sanctuary made the request to Lawrence County Planning and Zoning Administrator Amber Vogt, who, in turn, brought the request to the Lawrence County Commission.
Vogt said that sanctuary workers have spent considerable time on their enclosures over the past few years and all cages are approved by the USDA.
As part of the Spirit of the Hills Wildlife Sanctuary’s current Conditional Use Permit, the Animal Industry Board set the maximum number of exotic animals at the facility at 78. There are currently a total of approximately 63 exotics at the sanctuary including bears, lions, mountain lions, leopards, wolf hybrids, in addition to domestic animals.
Prior to this year, the Spirit of the Hills hasn’t taken in any large exotics in for at least seven years.