N.C.'s exotic animal legislation goes too far

Dr. Mary Ann McBride is assistant state veterinarian with the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. She served on a study committee that was asked to gauge the threat posed by exotic animals.

"I don't think we've identified what the threat is, how great a risk it is. That was never studied by the study commission. We spent at least 95 percent of our time discussing which animals are dangerous, but not what to do about them. We were directed to study the need to protect the public against health and safety risks posed by inherently dangerous animals and to propose a means of providing that protection to the public while protecting those animals as well. Both cities and counties in the state already have the authority to regulate possession and harboring of dangerous animals, and a multitude have already enacted their own regulations. So there is already effective legislation on the record. Perhaps no state-level regulations are appropriate at this time.

"Exotic doesn't imply dangerous. What you should be asking is who should be allowed to keep dangerous, exotic animals, because a Holstein bull is a dangerous animal but it's not exotic, and some of birds we have as pets are exotic but not dangerous. People want to make this a cut-and-dried, clear-cut issue, and it's not that simple. There's not a person on the study commission who disagreed with the concept of not allowing lions and tigers and bears, myself included. However, this bill takes that concept much farther, and that's the reason for the North Carolina Department of Agriculture's opposition to it. We do not oppose prohibiting backyard lions and tigers and bears and similar large, dangerous carnivores. But that's where our support for this initiative ends.

"The bill was introduced long before the study commission's report was prepared or released. That's a key point. This bill is being driven almost entirely by an out-of-state group. They're attempting to introduce legislation across the nation to ban exotic animal ownership, and we're one of the states that they feel doesn't have strong enough regulations. But is it best for an out-of-state organization to decide what's best for North Carolina? This same group got similar legislation passed in both Washington and Oregon about two weeks ago.

"The North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services would fully support a well-written and concise bill that bans personal ownership of large carnivores. However, the current bill has far-reaching impacts as it bans a myriad of animals that do not fall into the same category as tigers and bears. Consider, too, that it will also significantly impact the ability of many of our state's smaller zoos and animal parks to stay in business and providing a service to our state's citizens.

"We have legislation in place that should be reviewed far more closely before any out-of-state legislation is pushed through our General Assembly. It's not in the best interest of a majority of these animals to live in private homes. Certainly, there has to be some code of ethics, standards that would be in place, but to simply ban them and only allow the North Carolina Zoo to have these animals would be a sad decision for the children of North Carolina, who would never get to see some of these animals being housed and cared for properly."