Raleigh (Finally) Grants Preliminary Approval to Ban on Dangerous Wild Animals

Correction: This story has been corrected to reflect that the council has yet to formally adopt an ordinance banning the ownership of wild animals, but council members voted Tuesday to direct city staff to draft an ordinance that would will present to the council in July. .

A year after the now-infamous zebra cobra escaped from a northwest Raleigh neighborhoodCity council members have moved to pass new rules banning the ownership of “dangerous wild animals.”

The new ordinance, adopted in a 5-3 vote on Tuesday, will ban “inherently dangerous” animals that do not normally live with people, including lions, tigers, wolves, non-human primates, crocodiles and “medically important venomous snakes.” . meaning snakes whose venom can cause death, serious illness, or injury and may require emergency care.

Current owners of these animals can keep their “pets” as long as they comply with the new ownership rules, including registering with the city. However, new buyers would face a fine of $500 per animal. Any dangerous wild animals they possess in violation of the ordinance would be seized by the city’s animal control unit.

The new rules will not apply to accredited zoos, veterinarians, wildlife rehabilitators, scientific research centers, or educational or scientific institutions.

Council member David Knight initially suggested a ban on dangerous wild animals after a venomous zebra cobra was seen last June in northwest Raleigh, in an area Knight represents. The cobra, owned by 21-year-old Christopher Gifford, had been missing since November 2020. Gifford failed to report the snake’s escape, a lesser charge to which he pleaded guilty in August last year.

Ultimately, the zebra cobra was on the loose for seven months before a neighbor spotted it. The sighting sparked a two-day neighborhood-wide snake hunt by police and animal control officers, who eventually captured and removed the snake safely, though they provided few details about the capture itself.

The incident sparked a media frenzy and inspired dozens of memes, as well as grieving Twitter accounts. lacobraraleigh Y The REAL Raleigh Cobra. He also prompted local officials to take a closer look at North Carolina’s lax regulations on the possession of dangerous wild animals.

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North Carolina remains one of four states without laws on private ownership of exotic animals. State lawmakers leave regulation up to local counties, cities and towns, whose rules are often liberal. At the time of the zebra cobra escape, Raleigh was the only city in North Carolina without a law regulating the ownership of wild animals.

Carolina Tiger Rescue wrote a letter this week expressing support for a local dangerous wild animal ordinance.

“Many believe that animals raised in captivity by humans lose their predatory instincts,” the staff wrote. “This couldn’t be further from the truth… There have been countless dangerous encounters documented by police officers and other first responders, as well as attacks on private owners. Several feral cats were turned over to us by owners at Carolina Tiger Rescue who could no longer care for them properly and safely.”

An investigation into the zebra cobra’s escape revealed that it was one of 75 venomous snakes owned by Gifford, who lived with his parents in a house on Chaminox Place.

“How many others own a similar number of deadly snakes in Raleigh? We don’t know,” Knight said Tuesday. “Until today, there has been no state law or ordinance that prevents you from also having a lion… a tiger… a chimpanzee. What we are asking for is not a ban on exotic animals… Just not on animals that they are prone to killing humans if given the chance.”

Gifford’s social media showed him handling a menagerie of cobras, rattlesnakes and vipers in violation of state law, which says the snakes must be kept in a sturdy, secure enclosure that has an operable lock and is designed to be bulletproof. leaks and bites. . Gifford’s treatment of his collection of venomous snakes had consequences: The youngster suffered a near-fatal bite from a green mamba last year.

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The city council debated the issue of keeping wild animals for a year before finally approving a ban this week. City staff will draft a formal text change for the council to vote on July 5. The purchase and ownership of dangerous wild animals would be prohibited from September 3, 60 days after the law was officially adopted. A registration program would start on July 1, 2023.

The year gives staff time to create a registry of dangerous wild animals, Knight said. By enforcing the law, staff would respond to complaints rather than conduct regular inspections, she added.

The city council reviewed four options for the law, including one that banned the animals entirely and another that allowed people to keep them as pets as long as they were registered.

During early city council talks about the ban last year, members rejected an option that, in addition to banning dangerous wildlife, would also have banned raccoons, opossums, skunks, squirrels, ducks, geese, crows and seagulls from ownership. It also appeared to ban rare pets like sugar gliders, ferrets and most reptiles, prompting concern from some pet owners as well as local and national groups.

The original language of the wild animal ordinance also upheld a city bylaw that prohibited the feeding of feral cats, prompting an objection from Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin, who jokingly invited the city to fine her for feeding a cat. Feral cat outside his Raleigh condo. The statute no longer applies after that meeting, apparently by order of the mayor and city attorney.

The law the council resolved is a compromise, giving existing pet owners grandfathered rights and prohibiting the ownership of dangerous wild animals in the future. Baldwin was one of three who voted against the revised version of the law on Tuesday, but she didn’t say anything about the reason for her ‘no’ vote.

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Baldwin was joined in his opposition by Councilwoman Stormie Forte, who said an outright ban was unnecessary and favored a law that would only require registration. Mayor Pro Tem Nicole Stewart also voted against the ordinance, saying it was basically rhetorical and there was no real way to enforce it. Stewart has opposed the ban from the beginning, she added.

“We’ve spent an inordinate amount of time on this issue. As the statistics show, across the country, time after time, these animals don’t harm people unless you’re their handler,” he said. “There was a lot of perceived threat, but there was never a real threat. There are a lot of things we’re afraid of, and a lot of it we shouldn’t be afraid of. There’s a lot going on.” in our city that need our attention and I don’t think this is one of them.

Still, the ban passed, thanks in part to the work of Knight, who has lobbied hard to get it done.

“(For) the neighbors who lived near where the zebra cobra was released, it was traumatic,” Knight said. “For those of us who didn’t live near where this happened, who didn’t have to worry about taking a walk through their neighborhood…we found it a bit surreal. And it got a few laughs along the way.” But it would not have been a laughing matter if one of our first responders who dealt with this or an innocent bystander was bitten or spat on by this snake.”

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