NC Roar greets bill to ban risky animals

Roar greets bill to ban risky animals

 

Jim Nesbitt, Staff Writer

 

RALEIGH – The attempt to resurrect an exotic animal ban backed by a California animal rights group is causing an uproar among reptile hobbyists, agribusiness groups and private zoo and sanctuary owners who say the legislation would put them out of business.

 

The bill would ban private ownership of animals deemed "inherently dangerous," including lions, tigers, apes, monkeys and venomous snakes not indigenous to North Carolina. It would exempt some organizations, including circuses, research facilities and sanctuaries that meet federal mandates. And it also contains a "grandfather" clause if the owner registers the animal with local animal control authorities, which would enforce the proposed law.

 

Several weeks ago, the bill appeared to be dead, bottled up in a committee that kept it from meeting the legislature’s "crossover" deadline.

 

But the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Ed Jones, a Democrat from Halifax County, said he expects a hearing on the measure next week. He said that it doesn’t target farm animals and that he doesn’t intend to put sanctuaries and small, private zoos out of business. Nor, he said, is the bill designed as a far-reaching ban on private animal ownership.

 

"I’m not going to put anybody out of business," Jones said. "I’m not going to ban all animals. I just want to make sure what we have are kept for properly."

 

Jones said his primary purpose is to outlaw the keeping of tigers, lions and other larger, dangerous carnivores in "backyard" cages by people with little or no training.

 

This is the latest twist in a legislative initiative started after a 10-year-old Wilkes County boy was killed in 2003 by a tiger named Tigger that his aunt kept in the yard. That attack was followed in 2004 by the mauling of a 14-year-old Surry County girl by one of four tigers her family kept on a farm near Lowgap.

 

Roger Bone is a lobbyist hired by the group backing the bill, the Animal Protection Institute of Sacramento, Calif. He said North Carolina needs to ban private ownership of certain exotic animals. Otherwise, he said, the state could become a refuge for owners fleeing states that already have bans or regulations and a dumping ground for unwanted animals.

 

North Carolina is one of nine states that don’t regulate the private ownership of exotic animals deemed a public safety or health risk. But 37 local governments across the state have bans or regulations in place, including Durham and Orange counties and Chapel Hill and Cary.

 

Opponents of Jones’ bill say the API-backed measure reaches far beyond the threat posed by risky critters kept in the backyard. They say it threatens serious reptile collectors, people who use exotic animals in traveling education programs for schools, and small, private institutions such as the Cape Fear Serpentarium in Wilmington.

 

"If this bill has been redrafted to keep Billy Bob from keeping a tiger chained in the backyard or a rattlesnake in a glass case, we can stand behind that," said Tanith Tyrr, reptile curator at the serpentarium. "But I’m afraid because we know who wrote this bill. They’re trying to push something through to prevent legitimate professionals from keeping and helping these animals."

 

Jones said he has drafted changes to the bill to address these concerns and promised to remove four large constrictor snakes and venomous snakes that aren’t indigenous to North Carolina from the proposed ban.

 

"Reptiles are not what’s killing us out here," he said "It’s the person who has his tiger running around and not properly caged."

 

Opponents of Jones’ bill are also critical of a legislative study committee headed by officials at the N.C. Zoological Park in Asheboro. The committee is charged with assessing the threat of "inherently dangerous" exotic animals and recommending whether to prohibit or regulate private ownership. Opponents note API was given one of the seats on the committee.

 

"It’s a little curious to me why this is being pushed so hard when there’s no one in North Carolina except the zoo and API pushing it so heavily," said Mary Ann McBride, assistant state veterinarian and member of the study committee. "Do we really want a California group to decide what’s best for North Carolina citizens?"

 

But Dr. David Jones, zoo director, said the API-backed bill and the study committee aren’t a coordinated effort. Jones said that, as a state agency, the zoo doesn’t support specific bills, but he thinks it’s important to restrict the ownership of exotic animals and establish higher standards for zoos and sanctuaries.

 

 

Staff writer Jim Nesbitt can be reached at 829-8955 or jim.nesbitt@newsobserver.com.

 

http://www.newsobserver.com/news/story/607861.html

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