Under the Dome

Ban on lions, tigers and bears advances in NC House

Aria, a healthy adult female tiger, watches human passersby from close inside the protective fencing at her home at the Carolina Tiger Rescue sanctuary near Pittsboro. House Bill 554 would ban the private individual ownership of dangerous wild cats, exempting wildlife sanctuaries such as CTR.
Aria, a healthy adult female tiger, watches human passersby from close inside the protective fencing at her home at the Carolina Tiger Rescue sanctuary near Pittsboro. House Bill 554 would ban the private individual ownership of dangerous wild cats, exempting wildlife sanctuaries such as CTR. hlynch@newsobserver.com

A bill that would prevent private citizens in North Carolina from keeping a lion or tiger in their backyard passed the N.C. House early Thursday, but those opposed say it has unintended consequences legislators failed to consider.

House Bill 554 would make it illegal for members of the public to possess, sell, transfer or breed dangerous wild animals – defined as gray wolves, all feline species except domesticated cats, and all species of hyena, aardwolf and bear. An amendment added early Thursday added apes and monkeys to the list, with exemptions for capuchin monkeys and lemurs.

The bill would also forbid the public from direct physical contact with a dangerous wild animal regardless of its age. The House approved the legislation in a 79-33 vote that split the Republican caucus.

On Wednesday, more than 20 people gathered outside the House Judiciary II committee room Wednesday, as the room was packed with concerned stakeholders of the bill regarding dangerous wildlife.

When the bill passed the committee, there were looks of deep concern and tears in the eyes of some volunteers with the Conservators Center, an animal rescue and education center in Burlington.

Assistant Director Julia Wagner addressed her more than 20 concerned supporters outside, saying that while some of the center’s concerns were addressed in bill revisions, a number of stakeholders have not been consulted.

“We certainly here in North Carolina want to see a law passed that addresses all the considerations that are held so dear to us around public safety and animal welfare, but we need to see a bill come forward that addresses those considerations without having a slew of unintended consequences that have been repeatedly brought forward to the individuals responsible for the bill,” she said to the group.

Bill sponsor Rep. Chuck McGrady, a Republican from Henderson County, said he has become frustrated with the group and said he has addressed the concerns brought to him thus far.

“Pretty much everything that was asked for was included in the new bill,” McGrady said. “What was interesting was when they came back in the committee hearing, all of that was off the table and now they have a whole bunch of other stuff, which would suggest that they are being a bit disingenuous and that their purpose may not be to try to improve the bill but simply to stop it.”

Initially the Conservators Center’s major concern was that the bill would shut down approximately 25 small zoos, the center included, that are certified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture but not the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. The bill would exempt a number of facilities, including accredited zoos, research facilities, wildlife sanctuaries, veterinary hospitals and circuses.

McGrady added exemptions for USDA and Zoological Association of America certified facilities, as well as addressed other concerns.

“They had an issue regarding wolves, I took that on,” McGrady said. “They had a concern regarding the insurance provision, I addressed that – in each case, exactly the way they suggested. I’m taking their feedback, but I don’t like the behavior.”

Wagner said that there are still many people to consult on the bill and concerns of costs to taxpayers and law enforcement, including the Sheriff’s Association, Department of Agriculture, Department of Natural Resources and many other impacted stakeholders.

Carolina Tiger Rescue’s executive director, Pam Fulk, spoke in favor of the bill Wednesday, even though she believes the latest revisions weakened the bill.

“They drastically weakened the bill because of their concerns,” Fulk said. “I found it hard to testify in support of it, but I know that this is a first step in the right direction towards public safety. It saddens me greatly that this leaves businesses able to have people pay to get their photos taken with cubs. It still paves the way for people to traffic wildlife. That part makes me very sad.”

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