Lions, tigers and snow?

Yes, along with all the wild animals, flying dogs and camouflage, there might even be a little frozen precipitation as the 28th annual Southeastern Wildlife Expo kicks off its annual three-day party today. But in spite of the less-than-spectacular forecast -- the National Weather Service says we could be in for 1 to 3 inches of snow tonight and chilly weather today and Saturday -- spirits remain high for the annual event that local retailers call "the official beginning of the tourist season."

"This is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, weekends of the year," said Perrin Lawson, the Charleston Area Convention & Visitors Bureau's deputy director. "And with Monday being Presidents Day, many people are opting to stay in Charleston Sunday night too."

Hotels have seen just as good, if not better, numbers as in year's past.

"It's a good weekend," said Paul Stracey, general manager of Charleston Place, which also houses a large portion of the expo's artwork. "Now I will say we've slightly lowered our rate in order to get that business, but the numbers are good."

David Marconi, operations manager for Maverick Southern Kitchens, which oversees two peninsular restaurants, High Cotton and Slightly North of Broad, also has seen a surge in business this week. "Instead of just the prime times, people will come in earlier or later. It's better for us when we can spread out business like that," he said.

Though the fanfare of the expo actually kicked off Thursday night with a black-tie gala at Charleston Place, the real fun begins today and runs through Sunday. Some of the highlights include:

DockDogs

--Oh, the lengths some dogs will go to get a squeaky toy. Brittlebank Park hosts the dog-jumping competitions. Come and watch or enter your dog. It's open to any breed over the age of 6 months. You hear that chihuahua owners? Sign up now. There are open heats today and Saturday with the finals being held Sunday afternoon.

Busch Wildlife show

--There's nothing Busch league about a wildlife show featuring foxes, owls and tigers. Established in 1983, Florida's Busch Wildlife Sanctuary cares for sick, injured and orphaned wild animals. How the animals repay the staff is by traveling with them to events such as SEWE so people can see them.

Art, art and more art

--Sprinkled through the peninsula will be impromptu art galleries featuring the works of more than 300 international painters, photographers and sculptors.

Birds of Prey

--Always a hit, the International Birds of Prey flying demonstrations in Marion Square show off the survival and hunting skills of bald eagles, hawks, falcons and the most misunderstood of all birds, vultures.

Jack Hanna

--With all due respect to Smokey the Bear, as far as wildlife superstars go, the king of them all has to be Jack Hanna. The director of the Columbus (Ohio) Zoo and host of the popular television series "Jack Hanna's Animal Adventures," again will be the centerpiece of the expo.

Across the peninsula

With the main events taking place at Marion Square, Gaillard Auditorium, Charleston Place and Brittlebank Park, the Southeastern Wildlife Expo has something for any outdoor lover.

Provided they have a ski jacket.

SEWE Calendar

Today

9:30 A.M.: DockDogs registration opens; competition waves throughout the day. Brittlebank Park.

10 a.m.-6 p.m.: All exhibits open.

10:30 A.M.: "Wild in the Kitchen" cooking demo. Gaillard Auditorium.

11 a.m.: Retriever demo. Brittlebank Park.

11 a.m.: Lecture: "Intro to Plein Air Painting" by Heiner Hertling. Art Institute MultiMedia Studio.

11 a.m.: Busch Wildlife Sanctuary show. Gaillard Auditorium.

11:30 A.M.: Birds of Prey flight demo. Marion Square.

Noon: Fly-fishing demo. Brittlebank Park.

12:30 P.M.: "Wild in the Kitchen" cooking demo. Gaillard Auditorium.

1 p.m.: Celebrity DockDogs competition. Brittlebank Park.

1 p.m.: Lecture: "Legends of the Hunt" by John Seerey-Lester. Charleston County Library.

2:30 P.M.: "Wild in the Kitchen" cooking demo. Gaillard Auditorium.

3 p.m.: Jack Hanna presentation. Gaillard Auditorium.

3 p.m.: Cast-net demo. Brittlebank Park.

3 p.m.: Quick draw/speed sculpt. Charleston Place.

3:30 P.M.: Birds of prey flight demo. Marion Square.

4 p.m.: Retriever demo. Brittlebank Park.

4:30 P.M.: "Wild in the Kitchen" cooking demo. Gaillard Auditorium.

4:30 P.M.: Auction following quick draw/speed sculpt. Charleston Place.

6-8 p.m.: SEWE King Street Stroll (ticket not required).

Saturday

9:30 A.M.: DockDogs registration opens; competition waves throughout the day. Brittlebank Park.

10 a.m.-6 p.m.: All exhibits open.

10:30 A.M.: "Wild in the Kitchen" cooking demo. Gaillard Auditorium.

11 a.m.: Retriever demo. Brittlebank Park.

11:30 A.M.: Birds of prey flight demo. Marion Square.

11:45 A.M.: Registration for casting rodeo. Brittlebank Park.

Noon: Casting rodeo. Brittlebank Park.

12:30 P.M.: "Wild in the Kitchen" cooking demo. Gaillard Auditorium.

1 p.m.: Jack Hanna presentation. Gaillard Auditorium.

1 p.m.: Celebrity story reading. Charleston County Library.

2:30 P.M.: "Wild in the Kitchen" cooking demo. Gaillard Auditorium.

3 p.m.: Lecture: "Animal Sculpture in America" by Robin Salmon/Brookgreen Gardens. Charleston County Library.

3 p.m.: Busch Wildlife Sanctuary show. Gaillard Auditorium.

3:30 P.M.: Birds of prey flight demo. Marion Square.

4 p.m.: Fly-fishing demo. Brittlebank Park.

4 p.m.: Retriever demo. Brittlebank Park.

4:30 P.M.: "Wild in the Kitchen" cooking demo. Gaillard Auditorium.

Sunday

9:30 A.M.: DockDogs registration opens; competition waves throughout the day with finals in the afternoon. Brittlebank Park.

10 a.m.-5 p.m.: All exhibits open.

10:30 A.M.: "Wild in the Kitchen" cooking demo. Gaillard Auditorium.

11:30 A.M.: Retriever demo. Brittlebank Park.

Noon: Busch Wildlife Sanctuary show. Gaillard Auditorium.

12:30 P.M: Cast-net demo. Brittlebank Park.

12:30 P.M.: "Wild in the Kitchen" cooking demo. Gaillard Auditorium.

1 p.m.: Birds of prey demo. Marion Square.

2 p.m.: Fly-fishing demo. Brittlebank Park.

2:30 P.M.: "Wild in the Kitchen" cooking demo. Gaillard Auditorium.

3 p.m.: Busch Wildlife Sanctuary show. Gaillard Auditorium.

3 p.m.: Retriever demo. Brittlebank Park.

Reach Bryce Donovan at bdonovan@postandcourier.com or 937-5938.