Exotic animals bill has sanctuary operators roaring

Posted April 24, 2015
Updated April 28, 2015

— North Carolina is one of a handful of states with no state law regulating the ownership of exotic animals. A bill backed by a number of animal advocacy groups would change that, but some say it could put wildlife sanctuaries out of business.

House Bill 554 would prevent private ownership of dangerous, exotic animals. It is backed by the Humane Society, the state's Veterinary Medical Board and the North Carolina Zoo.

But the operators of the Conservators Center in Caswell County say they fear the legislation could force them to shut down. The sanctuary is home to 80 animals, including lions and tigers that were brought to the center from across the country after being rescued from abuse.

"We do find it unbelievable that we're at risk, but if you look at the words of this bill, that is a fact," said Julia Matson Wagner, assistant director of the Conservators Center. "Unfortunately, the way in which it has been drafted, there are many unintended consequences as a result of language issues."

Kim Alboum, North Carolina director for the Humane Society of the United States, said the bill targets individual owners and isn't meant to prey on places like the Conservators Center.

"First responders could literally walk into a backyard in some of our counties in North Carolina and find a tiger in a dogpen," Alboum said. "This bill grandfathers current, existing facilities just as long as they register with the county and agree to inspections by animal control and post signs for dangerous animals."

The Conservators Center is licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which conducts inspections.

Sponsor Rep. Chuck McGrady, R-Henderson, said the language in the bill does need some revising, but he also said the aim isn't to shut down places like the Conservators Center. Previous efforts in the General Assembly to regulate wildlife owners have failed.


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  • Troi Perkins May 6, 2015
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    It seems there is some information missing from this news report. While it's good to hear the Conservator Center's side; there is no mention of what the "language" is that needs revision and would put the Conservator's Center at risk. Nor is there really any mention of what the bill's facts are (like the exotic animals affected being just "dangerous" exotics defined as big cats, primates, and canines) in the news clip. The bill I read said exactly what the Humane Society person said in that the Conservator Center would not have any of their animals taken from them because they are grandfathered in. The only thing that I read that would affect the Conservator's Center in the bill is that they could no longer breed. I also take issue with the fact the news reporters say that it could put "wildlife sanctuaries out of business" and then only give the Conservators Center's opinion. There are other wildlife sanctuaries not mentioned like Carolina Tiger Rescue which agrees with the bill.

  • Dorinda Hayes Apr 25, 2015
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    People should not be able to own large exotics in garage or basements, but do what you have to do, to not hurt The Conservation Center or any of the legitimate sanctuaries. I worked for a pet shop a long time back, and the owner had a beautiful leopard in the basement in a tiny enclosure, in the dark most of the time. The leopard was finally taken from him,. It was a cruel existence down there for that poor cat.