Raleigh trimming proposed wild animal pet ban

Posted October 26, 2021 3:29 p.m. EDT

— City officials are pulling back from a wide-ranging proposal to prohibit owning or feeding wild or dangerous animals in Raleigh, trimming the types of animals affected and the restrictions on others.

Councilman David Knight drafted the ordinance this summer after a venomous zebra cobra that had escaped a north Raleigh home was loose for about seven months before being recaptured in June.

While no one was hurt during the incident, Knight said he fears a repeat situation could end up worse, so he wants Raleigh to have rules in place regulating the ownership of exotic pets like snakes. Raleigh is the only major city in North Carolina without any such regulations, he said, noting that some locales have had rules on the books for decades.

But his initial plan was too far-reaching for some City Council members, going beyond lions, bears, wolves and venomous snakes to include squirrels, ducks, geese and crows. It also would have prohibited people from feeding such animals.

A council committee began working Tuesday to fine-tune the idea, and they quickly scrapped the no-feeding portion and also culled the list of restricted animals to venomous snakes; lions, tigers and other big cats; crocodiles; and monkeys and other primates.

Restrictions on owning native species such as bears, wolves and coyotes are already covered by state law and wouldn't need to be included in a city ordinance, officials said.

Officials also are debating a grandfather clause to allow people to keep some of the pets they now have. Knight's proposed ordinance set a 90-day deadline for owners to get the animals out of Raleigh or face daily fines.

Dr. Elizabeth Swan, who runs Middle Creek Veterinary Hospital in Fuquay-Varina, said many people own exotic pets.

"[It's] way more than you think," Swan said. "We never know what is going to come in. It’s going to be pretty much everything from a dog or a cat to a snake to a kangaroo."

She said she would like to see a more nuanced approach to addressing exotic pet ownership, calling the zebra cobra incident "a very rare thing." Animal control officers seized dozens of venomous snakes from the man who owned the cobra, and he pleaded guilty to not reporting the escaped snake.

"I compare it to owning a firearm," Phil Goss, president of the U.S. Association of Reptile Keepers, told the committee. "You have to keep it safe and protected."

City staff said they hope to have an updated draft of the ordinance back to the committee next month.

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