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Ohio Incident Renews Call for North Carolina to Pass Law to Ban Dangerous Exotic Pets

The HSUS is calling on North Carolina state legislature to address private possession of inherently dangerous wild animals.

The Humane Society of the United States is calling on North Carolina state legislature to issue an emergency order or otherwise direct the state wildlife agency to immediately undertake a rulemaking process to address private possession of inherently dangerous wild animals. The call comes following the escape Tuesday night of 48 wild animals—from bears to wolves to lions—from an exotic animal menagerie in Zanesville, Ohio.

Lax laws in North Carolina make it one of the weakest in the country, threatening the safety of its residents, and would hardly keep such incidents from occurring here. Local county ordinances range from banning some species to no rules or regulations at all for exotic/dangerous animals.  

“How many incidents must we catalogue before states like North Carolina take action to crack down on private ownership of dangerous exotic animals,” said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States. “In recent years, several incidence of been reported of people who have died or suffered injuries because the state hasn’t exhibited the foresight to stop private citizens from keeping dangerous wild animals as pets or as roadside attractions, and the situation gets more surreal with every new incident, including this mass escape or release of large animals in Ohio.”

In response to the Zanesville incident alone, Ohio authorities have already spent enormous resources on personnel, helicopters, infrared, and equipment to chase down and kill free-roaming exotic animals in order to protect public safety.

Authorities reported that exotic pet farm owner Terry Thompson was found dead on his Zanesville property, and cages were open where he had kept dozens of lions, bears and wolves. The animals were roaming the streets, and many have already been shot by responders.

Ohio is one of five states that don’t regulate private ownership of dangerous wild animals, jeopardizing public safety and animal welfare. Addressing the issue was one of the elements of a deal struck by The HSUS and agricultural leaders in Ohio to advance a series of animal welfare policies in the state.

Below is a rundown of the five worst state laws restricting exotic animals:

North Carolina: North Carolina regulates native species, but has essentially no statewide restrictions on owning exotic pets. A bill currently under consideration would require registration for certain dangerous reptiles but would allow some public contact with venomous snakes, which is currently prohibited.

  • 2007: A woman brought her 15-month-old son to a park; as she was lowering him to the ground, a ball python wrapped around his leg and bit him. The snakes are not native to the United States and might have been an abandoned pet.
  •  2007: A woman working at a convenience store was bitten by a pet monkey a man brought with him into the store.
  • 2004: A woman was rushed to the hospital after being bitten by one of her father's four tigers.
  • 2004: A man was found selling venomous snakes at a flea market.
  • 2003: A 10-year-old boy was killed by a relative's tiger, but this tragic incident wasn't enough for lawmakers to prohibit exotic pets in the state.

Missouri: Although the state requires certain dangerous exotic animals, including primates, to be registered with local law enforcement, the rule does not appear to be enforced. Missouri is home to a large exotic animal auction in Macon and to a number of breeders and dealers.

Nevada: Almost anything goes in Nevada when it comes to owning exotic animals (other than venomous snakes and crocodilians), and the consequences have sometimes been deadly.

Ohio: The state regulates native species, but has no statewide restrictions on owning exotic pets. Ohio is a center for breeding and selling wild and exotic animals. The Mt. Hope exotic animal auction advertises monkeys, lions, bears, kangaroos and more for sale. News reports say that 57 bear breeders are licensed by the state.

Oklahoma: Oklahoma has no statewide restrictions on owning exotic pets, and the state specifically exempts primates and many other exotic species from its import permit requirement. The state also is home to exotic animal facilities with dismal safety and animal welfare records.

With little oversight of exotic animal ownership, states like West Virginia, Wisconsin and Alabama are not far behind in terms of regressive policies. Some states that previously had no restrictions on exotic pets have enacted prohibitions in recent years — such as Washington, Kentucky and Iowa — putting them now among the best in the nation. Some states that already prohibit certain wild animals such as big cats as pets need to add primates to the list, including Arkansas, Connecticut, Illinois, Kansas, Michigan and Virginia. Similarly, states such as Oregon with permit requirements should move to a prohibition and expand the list of covered animals.


Media Contact: Stephanie Twining, 301-258-1491; stwining@humanesociety.org

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