Nicole Paquette is director of legal and government affairs for the Animal Protection Institute, a national group with about 2,000 members in North Carolina that is lobbying the state for an exotic animal ban.
"My organization rescues primates from all over the country, and we have seen that the private setting is not the place for exotic animals. Period. That would include your pet situation, where individuals think it might be cool to have a tiger or interesting to have a bear. So they do a little Internet research or go into chat rooms and buy one of these animals, then they don't realize what it takes to properly care for them.
"You'll see monkeys living in solitary confinement in a cage. Their only companion is a human. Primates are among the most social creatures out there, and they live in large troops of other species of their own kind. They groom each other. They form bonds, and they form relationships, and to deny them that is cruel. In many situations, you find primates are replacements for human children because somebody can't have children or their child went away to college and they're lonely. What ends up happening is they get one or two of these animals, then they get more and more, and a lot of people turn their collection into a 'zoo.' It's not to say that every single nonaccredited facility in the U.S., what we term roadside zoos, are absolutely horrible. What I am saying is that the majority of them are living in substandard caging, not getting the proper enrichment and care that that animal deserves.
"None of us have a right to own these animals. We're looking out for the animals' welfare and standing up and saying these animals deserve better. They don't deserve to be bred for somebody's personal pet, nor do they deserve to be bred to be put in a substandard cage and have people come look at them. That's not teaching children about conservation or educating them about species in the wild, what they need and what they're suffering from in their native habitats. We're teaching them that it's OK to breed these animals, put them in substandard facilities and call them a pet. These animals deserve to not be in captivity and deserve to live out their life the way nature intended them to be -- in the wild.
"We had in North Carolina one of the most tragic incidents in the country where a little boy was mauled to death by his aunt's pet tiger in 2003. We should be standing up for that child and that child's family and other children in the state to say something has to be done. People continue to buy them, and it should be the job of the legislature to interject and stop it.
"At some point, animals are going to act out their natural instincts. It's to the detriment of the person next to the animal, but it's also to the detriment of the animal, because the animal is shot or euthanized. They always have that instinct. You probably have heard about things that elephants do in the circus if they are constantly forced to do certain things. They don't act out a lot, but when they do, somebody dies."