Deal takes NC science museum out of seized venomous snake business
Posted November 20, 2015
Raleigh, N.C. — An agreement reached this week will make the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences a safer place, as venomous snakes seized by law enforcement agencies across the state will no longer be housed there.
State lawmakers two years ago began requiring the museum to take in venomous snakes because the staff has the expertise to identify and care for the animals.
The museum has a number of venomous snakes on display, but the confiscated serpents were housed separately. At one point, the museum had to put some in a converted bathroom in the basement.
" I think we had, at one point, over 50 animals potentially involved," said Dr. Dan Dombrowski, chief veterinarian at the museum, noting the collection has included a Gaboon viper, a cobra and a sidewinder. "You sort of never know what could come in."
Last year, the General Assembly added a twist to the law, requiring museum staff to euthanize any snakes for which no antivenom was available, unless it is protected under the federal Endangered Species Act. The idea was to improve safety for the museum staff, but Dombrowski said it did the opposite.
"What's not obvious on paper is that, even to get animals in and to identify them and see what's there and to humanely euthanize them, you still have contact, and you still have to work with the animals," he said.
Museum director Emlyn Koster said the science museum is trying to gain accreditation by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, "so we have to hold ourselves to serious standards of animal care like any zoo or aquarium or museum."
The problem was solved when the museum signed a formal agreement with Alligator Adventure, a North Myrtle Beach, S.C., facility that specializes in dangerous reptiles. Venomous snakes seized by North Carolina law enforcement or animal control agencies will now go there instead of the museum.
"This is the safe and right way to go, and we're delighted to have the collaboration that allows us to do that," Koster said.
The transfer agreement has been approved by the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, he said, but legislators will likely need to modify the 2014 law during next year's short session.
Dombrowski said museum staff will continue to be available as an informational and educational resource for law enforcement and animal control statewide.