Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Judge won't decide for weeks if Safari Wild is farm or tourist attraction

BARTOW — Safari Wild owners' claim that the controversial Green Swamp facility is a farm operation rather than a tourist attraction came under fire Friday from a procession of ranchers and an environmentalist.

But colleagues of one of the owners praised its design and educational potential.

Now it will be up to Administrative Law Judge David Maloney and Gov. Charlie Crist and the Florida Cabinet to decide whether the project continues.

Safari Wild was launched by Lex Salisbury, then the president of Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo, and Stephen Wehrmann, a St. Petersburg veterinarian.

The comments came during public testimony Friday following an administrative hearing.

Other than to indicate a decision is at least a month away, Maloney did not give a date for when he will issue a recommended order to the governor and Cabinet, sitting as the Florida Land and Water Adjudicatory Board.

The case was brought by the Florida Department of Community Affairs, which oversees protection of the Green Swamp Area of Critical State Concern. The area was established in 1974 to protect water resources.

At issue is Polk County's decision last year to administratively approve development plans for the 258-acre Safari Wild animal park off Moore Road northeast of Lakeland in the Green Swamp.

The Department of Community Affairs contends Safari Wild is a commercial venture, and Polk's approval violated the county's own growth plan.

County officials contend they followed their rules.

Safari Wild representatives say their operation is an agritourism venture little different from surrounding cattle ranches or conservation lands.

Lois Murphy, a member of a longtime ranching family, disputed the status.

"Safari Wild is not agriculture,'' she said, citing e-mails from county tourism officials referring to plans to bring in travel writers and promote plans to bring tourists there to see exotic animals.

"This is no place for a zoo,'' said Marian Ryan, a Winter Haven environmentalist who was a member of the Green Swamp Land Authority overseeing the purchase of development rights on 45,000 acres in the area.

Gary Oswald, a veterinarian and colleague of Wehrmann's, said it's an impressive facility.

"It's more than a game ranch," he said. "It's much more natural than you'll ever see at a zoo.''

Safari Wild subpoenaed Daryl Emerson, an inspector for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which reviews permits for exotic animal facilities.

Emerson said Safari Wild exceeds state requirements for housing the animals, adding the operation is little different from similar ones he's seen in agricultural areas elsewhere in Florida.

Safari Wild has been controversial since its existence was disclosed by the escape of a troop of monkeys in 2008.

Judge won't decide for weeks if Safari Wild is farm or tourist attraction 05/14/10 [Last modified: Friday, May 14, 2010 10:45pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. What you need to know for Thursday, May 25


    Catching you up on overnight happenings, and what you need to know today.

    To catch a ring of poachers who targeted Florida's million-dollar alligator farming industry, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission set up an undercover operation. They created their own alligator farm, complete with plenty of real, live alligators, watched over by real, live undercover wildlife officers. It also had hidden video cameras to record everything that happened. That was two years ago, and on Wednesday wildlife officers announced that they arrested nine people on  44 felony charges alleging they broke wildlife laws governing alligator harvesting, transporting eggs and hatchlings across state lines, dealing in stolen property, falsifying records, racketeering and conspiracy. The wildlife commission released these photos of alligators, eggs and hatchlings taken during the undercover operation. [Courtesy of Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission]
  2. Trigaux: Amid a record turnout, regional technology group spotlights successes, desire to do more


    ST. PETERSBURG — They came. They saw. They celebrated Tampa Bay's tech momentum.

    A record turnout event by the Tampa Bay Technology Forum, held May 24 at the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg, featured a panel of area tech executives talking about the challenges encountered during their respective mergers and acquisitions. Show, from left to right, are: Gerard Purcell, senior vice president of global IT integration at Tech Data Corp.; John Kuemmel, chief information officer at Triad Retail Media, and Chris Cate, chief operating officer at Valpak. [Robert Trigaux, Times]
  3. Take 2: Some fear Tampa Bay Next transportation plan is TBX redux


    TAMPA — For many, Wednesday's regional transportation meeting was a dose of deja vu.

    The Florida Department of Transportation on Monday announced that it was renaming its controversial Tampa Bay Express plan, also known as TBX. The plan will now be known as Tampa Bay Next, or TBN. But the plan remains the same: spend $60 billion to add 90 miles of toll roads to bay area interstates that are currently free of tolls. [Florida Department of Transportation]
  4. Hailed as 'pioneers,' students from St. Petersburg High's first IB class return 30 years later


    ST. PETERSBURG — The students came from all over Pinellas County, some enduring hot bus rides to a school far from home. At first, they barely knew what to call themselves. All they knew was that they were in for a challenge.

    Class of 1987 alumni Devin Brown, from left, and D.J. Wagner, world history teacher Samuel Davis and 1987 graduate Milford Chavous chat at their table.
  5. Flower boxes on Fort Harrison in Clearwater to go, traffic pattern to stay


    I travel Fort Harrison Avenue in Clearwater often and I've noticed that the travel lanes have been rerouted to allow for what looks like flower boxes that have been painted by children. There are also a few spaces that push the travel lane to the center that have no boxes. Is this a permanent travel lane now? It …