Local News

NC has few regulations for keeping exotic animals

Posted October 19, 2011

The Carolina Tiger Rescue is located in Chatham County.

— Like Ohio, where an animal park operator released dozens of lions, bears and other creatures Tuesday, North Carolina has no license or permit requirements for people to keep most exotic animals.

Deputies near Zanesville, Ohio, shot 48 wild animals in a big-game hunt across the Ohio countryside late Tuesday and Wednesday after the park owner threw their cages open and committed suicide in what authorities said may have been one last act of vengeance against neighbors and police.

Ten U.S. states, including North Carolina and Ohio, don't regulate or track dangerous animals that people sometimes keep as pets. Endangered species like tigers cannot be sold across state lines, but selling them within North Carolina is legal.

"In North Carolina, your neighbor can own (a tiger) in his backyard unless you live in a county or a municipality in which it's illegal," said Pam Fulk, director of Carolina Tiger Rescue in Pittsboro.

Because it accepts donations to support its operations, the sanctuary is regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The USDA also oversees animals where they are bought and sold or used for research.

With no state or federal rules, it's left to counties and cities to regulate private facilities like the Muskingum County Animal Farm in Ohio.

Most Triangle-area counties ban all dangerous animals, but Johnston and Vance counties are among those that allow them with permits. Some counties in the western part of the state have no restrictions at all.

Many county bans also have exceptions for educational purposes. So, if a private sanctuary offers free tours to school groups, it may be exempted from local rules.

Carolina Tiger Rescue Patchwork of local rules govern exotic animal ownership

A pet tiger killed a Wilkes County 10-year-old in 2003, prompting an effort to draft statewide regulations on exotic animals. But the legislation failed, and another attempt in 2009 was eventually narrowed to regulate only venomous reptiles.

"North Carolina has no rules at all," Fulk said, noting that about half of Carolina Tiger Rescue's 75 big cats were rescued from roadside zoos or private owners who thought they would make good pets.

Local ordinances aren't even enforced in some instances, she said, which allows facilities like the Ohio animal farm to continue to operate.

"He’s been in trouble consistently with various authorities for various infractions, including animal cruelty," she said of Terry Thompson, the owner of Muskingum County Animal Farm. "So, my question is, why did he even still have animals? This could have been prevented.”

Kim Alboum, North Carolina director of the Humane Society of the U.S., said a patchwork of local laws isn't enough. She wants to see a statewide law for exotic animals and is frustrated by the lack of attention from legislators.

"(It's hard) to make them understand that these are just simple common sense rules. People should not be allowed to have dangerous animals in their backyard," Alboum said.

"Unfortunately, exotic and dangerous animals don't respect county lines," she said. "It's impossible to keep the general public safe when we don't know from one county to another what the rules are and what could be in somebody's backyard."


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  • SnakeLady Oct 20, 2011

    I agree with bill0

    chilibee, I'll check that link later tonight (though I'm not sure I want to. Sounds like another awful situation).

  • chilibee Oct 20, 2011

    SnakeLady- there are grandfather clauses that protect owners such as yourself. This "pet" monkey was seized and euthanized earlier this year in N.C. because there are no laws to protect it.


  • ICTrue Oct 20, 2011

    "There are only 1,400 Bengal Tigers left in the world, and 18 were shot in ohio yesterday"

    I hope Neil Young writes a song about it.

  • bill0 Oct 20, 2011

    As a general rule, events make news because they are rare. As such, we really don't need to make new laws and regulations every time some fool figures out a new way to hurt themselves.

    Should you keep a lion at your house? No. They are dangerous and wild animals. Do we need a law against keeping lions as pets? No. The problem tends to resolve itself when the lion's "owner" turns into Fancy Feast.

  • SnakeLady Oct 20, 2011

    chilibee, you're talking about HR669 from a few years ago. We shot that bill down! More than 56,000 letters were sent. That bill would have banned anything that wasn't native, including hamsters, guinea pigs, ball pythons, most tropical fish, most birds (even the ones that were captive bred). That bill would have put so many people out of business, and would have turned some of us into felons overnight. (I'm not giving up my snakes, EVER. They're my children!) We need REASONABLE restrictions and laws such that we have for large and venomous snakes, ie NC S307 Regulate Ownership & Use of Certain Reptiles. Common sense should prevail. I'd even be for mandatory training and certification/licensing for anyone who wishes to keep exotic pets.

  • larryoboyd Oct 20, 2011

    Unbelievable, just last week the NC Fish and Wildlife folks killed 9 deer that were captive. They cited all kinds of laws against keeping wild deer. So which is it?

  • cierra3737 Oct 20, 2011

    When there are no laws against this type of thing, even after people have warned of the chance that something like this could happen...who is to blame? I think the State should be held accountable! There has to be laws against keeping WILD animals. State officials have more knowledge of this than people believe but I guess it just wasn't that important until they were running wild. A farming industry is in no way compared to having wild animals. Leave our farmers alone and make a law that states NO wild animals are to be held in captivity! There are so many that are indangered and the law inforcement had to kill most of these animals...but for some reason 6 were tranquilized? I think more could have been saved than that, I know they should have never been held by that man or any other man at all! NC needs to push a law through that will force people to stop this abuse! It may have happened in Ohio, but it could happen here as well.

  • hp277 Oct 20, 2011

    There are only 1,400 Bengal Tigers left in the world, and 18 were shot in ohio yesterday thanks to their irresponsible owner.

    There's no reason for someone to own a lion or tiger - it's just an accident waiting to happen. People are not allowed to own hand grenades. Why should dangerous animals be any different?

  • maz6123 Oct 20, 2011

    The last thing we need is more laws and regulations. But I truly believe this incident in Ohio is a wake up call for the states who have no control or knowledge of dangerous animals within their borders. It would be great if we could count on people being responsible and considerate of others, and not keep these animals. But we can't count on that any more than we can count on corporations to do the right and fair thing in regards to financial and environmental damages to the American people.

  • chilibee Oct 20, 2011

    It is time for North Carolina to adopt a statewide law on this issue. North Carolina has seen several reported serious incidences involving exotic animals in the recent past. N.C. General Assembly would have already passed a reasonable ban on exotics as “pets” except for the agriculture lobby that are opposed to any legislation- only because they are afraid that there will be legislation in the future affecting the farm animal industry. This is simply not a good enough rationale to hold up a bill that protects public safety.

    North Carolina is one of nine states that currently have no regulations regulating the private possession of inherently dangerous, exotic animals. All the states surrounding North Carolina with the exception of South Carolina all ban inherently dangerous wild animals (KY, VA, SC, TN, GA). And given that there are so few states that have no laws, North Carolina is fast becoming a dumping ground for these animals. People are moving to the state and bringing th