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Red tape forcing man to give up pet bobcat

North Carolina wildlife officials say a Lenoir County man must surrender his cat, because its species is native to the state. There's no state law, however, governing exotic animals.

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LA GRANGE, N.C. — Nero isn't the everyday house cat. But the 30-pound bobcat calls La Grange his home, where he stays with his owner, Tim Seaman.

"I've had cats all my life, really domestic cats, and I wanted to do something to take it to another level, I guess," Seaman said.

So, in October 2006, he bought Nero from a licensed breeder in Montana, spent thousands of dollars building a regulation cage and applied for state and federal permits to keep and exhibit his cat at his Lenoir County home.

Recently, however, the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission told Seaman that Nero has to go to a zoo in Wilmington.

State wildlife officials won't specifically discuss Seaman's case, but they say that, in general, it is against the law for people to keep native wildlife as pets.

"I really think it's a disgrace," Seaman said.

People can apply for a captivity permit to keep animals native to North Carolina, but wildlife officials say those usually only go to educational facilities, such as zoos and habitat sanctuaries.

"It's kind of a discriminatory thing against private individuals, saying 'We're not going to issue any permits,'" Seaman said.

The state cites concerns over disease and safety as reasons to limit ownership of native animals. Seaman argues that Nero had to be cleared of any health problems before he crossed state lines.

He says wildlife officials have never visited his home for an inspection.

"I mean, it's nothing more really than a large house cat or domestic cat, even though he is wild," he said.

Seaman has appealed the wildlife commission's decision that Nero has to go. He says he'll find out early next week if Nero can stay.

North Carolina is one of nine states that do not prohibit residents from owning exotic animals that are "inherently dangerous." Dozens of communities, however, have their own rules and ordinances.

A proposed state law that would ban the ownership of some exotic animals is in a legislative committee. It would prohibit big cats, bears, wolves, monkeys, apes, hyenas and alligators, among others.

Small zoos with federal certification would be exempt, though they would have to hold multimillion-dollar insurance policies.

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Mike Charbonneau, Reporter
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