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      Caged animals at traveling zoo stir up animal cruelty debate

      CAMDEN, SC (WACH) -- A wild animal exhibit rolled into town this week, bringing with it plenty of controversy. The scene of exotic animals in small cages in a hot parking lot had some people fuming Thursday.

      "It is barbaric, and these poor animals [are] just living out their lives in cages," said Andrea Walker, an animal rights activist.

      City administrators say they have been bombarded with complaints of animal cruelty since the Florida-based Jungle Safari set up shop in downtown Camden Wednesday.

      "We've had a lot of contacts about people that are concerned," said city manager Mel Pearson.

      Animal rights advocates say there aren't enough local laws to protect animals, and the animals at Jungle Safari are suffering the consequences of lax legislation.

      "Our state has bare bones animal protection laws now, and this just is not the way that we want our children to grow up to be our future caretakers of animals and people," said Walker, who calls herself an "animal rescuer."

      Despite the opposition, the exhibit is drawing a steady crowd of happy visitors.

      "We thought it was wonderful," said Misty Cook, who took her children to the exhibit. "They let you pet the animals, they let you feed the animals, they let you ride the animals, and all our kids enjoyed it."

      Owners of Jungle Safari say the animals are will cared for -- that they only spend four or five weeks in a year traveling in small cages. They say the animals were born in captivity and are happy that way.

      "It's not like I'm taking something that's brought in from the wild and they're going to go through that stress factor of oh my god, my whole world has just changed," said Robert Engesser, whose family owns Jungle Safari. "They've been raised around it, they know the people, and of course the common bond is us -- is the people."

      Pearson says the city does not have a problem with the exhibit. He says Jungle Safari has been inspected by local law enforcement and city officials who have found the animals are being fed and watered. He says the exhibitors have gone through the proper permitting process to set up shop for a week at the North Towne Square Shopping Center.

      Opponents say we need stronger animal protection laws at the state level. A bill discussed at the State House earlier this year would limit the ownership of wild animals. That law has not been passed at this point.