Andrew Dys

Late York man never met a wild animal he didn't like

YORK -- Whether it roared, growled, purred, bellowed, snorted, mooed, quacked or didn't make a sound, walked on four feet or slithered or was covered in feathers or fur, York wild animal lover Jerry Martin gave that animal a home.

A huge man at well over 6 feet 4 inches tall and better than 400 pounds, Martin died last week at age 54. One of his taxidermist buddies, James Camp, called Martin "a gentle giant."

"Looked like Grizzly Adams, but with a bigger heart," said another taxidermist, Larry Davis.

Martin leaves a legacy of love for what roamed the wild that remains in pens and cages and pecking through the dirt. He could have been the real-life Wizard of Oz because over decades at his place outside York, with the sign that says "Prices you can bear" with the pictures of bears, he did at times have lions and tigers and bears.

Monkeys, ostriches and capybaras, too. And kangaroos, Russian hogs, bison, otters, coatimundis, peccaries, two boa constrictors as big as logs and even black panthers.

On Monday, family and friends talked about what a great guy he was over the sounds of what is penned up outside Martin's home/taxidermy shop/animal farm.

Cougars -- two. Tigers -- two. Black bears -- three I could see, but I didn't get close. Grizzly bears -- five. Water Buffalo -- three. Longhorn cattle -- one. Emu -- one. Bulldogs -- two. Chihuahuas named Precious -- one. And more geese, turkeys, peacocks, guinea hens, chicken, ducks, ducklings, doves, pigeons, and so much more flying and walking stuff that I lost track.

The father Grizzly Bear is huge -- "and that's a small one," somebody said. "You shoulda seen the big one he used to have." Well, I didn't inquire whether the porridge was too hot, and I didn't ask if his bed was too hard, either. Species for me? Chicken, I am.

But not Jerry Martin.

"He was Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone and the Crocodile Hunter all rolled into one," said Marting's youngest brother, Timmy. "We been in the water with alligators, caught cooters half as long as us. Jerry was my hero of the wild."

Longtime buddies Davis and Camp are handling all the work Martin had going before his sudden death. Inside the taxidermy shop are more finished and unfinished deer heads, elk heads, stuffed bobcats, foxes, birds and even a buffalo head and three bears. But his legacy is the animals he took in. Often, people would get exotic pets, then tire of them. Martin was the guy who wouldn't say no.

"He loved wild animals more profoundly at his death than even when he was a young boy," said his father, Ross Martin. "He lived the way he wanted to live. Right beside his animals."

Martin was such a generous man that he gave away more than he took in, his father and others said. The family now has to pay for a funeral and other expenses, Ross Martin said.

Martin leaves a widow, Robin, and countless "children" from so many genuses of the animal kingdom.

"One bear, he raised in the house wearing diapers," his father said.

Wildlife officials had close contact with Martin at his place outside York, said 1st Sgt. Todd Campbell of the S.C. Department of Natural Resources. Although DNR does not encourage the keeping of wild animals, Martin had a legitimate operation that when last inspected about a year ago, had clean, well-fed, cared-for animals, Campbell said.

Jeff Bryant, who bought his first pigeons and doves to race and raise from Martin years ago, even let 100 of his birds loose to fly as a tribute for Martin's funeral.

"Jerry called animals critters, and he loved all of them," Bryant said.

Even boars, cranky ostriches and rheas, and snakes.