Longform

Declarations of Independents

Page 6 of 6

"People have never mattered anymore ever since," says Hawkes, rolling up a sleeve to show patches of discolored skin. "I became a slave to the animals."

Hawkes did some acting after recovering from the burns (he played a murderous monster in a horror flick called Blood Freaks), but soon moved to Loxahatchee Groves in order to create a sanctuary for exotic cats. It's evidently a full-time job. Hawkes says he can't travel farther than Miami because the animals have to be looked after constantly. Housing nine several-hundred-pound cats is also expensive: Every two weeks or so, 1500 pounds of turkey legs are delivered to the Loxahatchee Groves compound for consumption.

Hawkes does granite and fencing work to pay the bills, and Lewis silk-screens Tshirts (featuring, naturally, images of lions and tigers) to sell at flea markets. The couple is also trying to get a Web-based business going. Billing the Loxahatchee Groves compound as "Jungleworld," the Website features a picture of a loincloth-clad, spear-carrying Hawkes, along with Tony the Tiger. Web browsers are implored to visit Jungleworld in the flesh, where they can have their pictures taken with the animals. Hawkes also wants to set up an exotic-animal Web cam, for which people would pay $1 a month to watch the cats online.

Despite the cyberspace plans, money is a constant pressure. Like Loxahatchee Groves itself, with its dirt roads and eccentric personalities, Hawkes is uncertain how long his sanctuary can survive. One of the few assets he has is the land itself, valued at $75,386 by the Palm Beach County Property Appraiser's Office. But if Hawkes sells the property, it is highly unlikely that he could find another place to live where the animals would have enough room to roam -- and where the presence of an 850-pound tiger would not incite a revolt by local homeowners.

The only alternative, in Hawkes' mind, is a dark one -- and perhaps an apt metaphor with which to close this trip to Loxahatchee Groves. If the money runs out, Hawkes says, he may kill the cats and himself, rather than ship them off to someone else's care.

"I can't afford food next week," Hawkes says. "It scares me that someday I would have to put us all to sleep. They're free here."

Contact Paul Demko at his e-mail address:

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Paul Demko
Contact: Paul Demko