Leopard, Crocodiles and Bobcats, Oh My!
By Dan Breitwieser, WCJB TV 20 News.
Levy County leaders agreed by denying one couple from housing some wild animals on their property. But the fight is not over.
Levy County Commissioners told John and Jennifer Jones of Rocky Hammock that they have to find another home for their exotic and dangerous animals. But the Joneses aren't budging.
They love their animals. But they're not pets. It's their business. They criss-cross the state for educational shows to schools and other groups.
"We don't need the county's permission to get animals," says Jennifer Jones. "We need to make sure we're not in violation for the structures or the fences. Those are the things they can regulate, things that can indirectly affect wildlife."
Both Jennifer and John have permits for their exotic animals. They say it's unconstitutional to ban their animals because they are exotic and something that's out of the county's control.
"Florida Fish and Game has executive power over wildlife," says Jones. "They are not local ordinances and local governments cannot prohibit possession of exotics and that's exactly what they are doing."
But County Commissioners say it's a zoning issue. The zoning director says there are ten homes in a quarter mile of the Jones' animals and plenty of neighbors showed up to strongly oppose them.
"I hate to cause any hardship on anybody," says Jones' neighbor John Fisher. "This is going to cause hardship to the Joneses. But in the end, we need to be safe, the citizens of Levy County need to be safe."
But the Joneses say safety shouldn't be a problem. In addition to the animal cages, they are installing 8-foot tall wire around the property to keep the animals in and everyone else out.
But County Commissioners say that's not the only problem.
"If they've been in business for that many years and they have been in a county for that many years, they would know there are zoning regulations that they would have to meet," says Commissioner Lilly Rooks. "But they did not come down to the building and zoning department."
But Jones says counties were they came from in South Florida don't have those kind of zoning regulations.
She says she and her husband aren't moving, and neither are their animals.
"We don't have anywhere to go," says Jones. "We have tens of thousands of dollars invested in animal enclosures, there's no place to go. Financially we can't do it."
The Joneses are in the process of hiring a lawyer and taking their case to court.
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