AR-News: EXPERTS URGE A STATE BAN ON EXOTIC ANIMALS -- Front page
of Monday's Winston-Salem Journal (Winston Salem, NC)
KarenDawn at DawnWatch.com
Tue Apr 6 11:39:55 EDT 2004
(The Journal takes letters at: letters at wsjournal.com )
Winston-Salem Journal (Winston Salem, NC)
April 5, 2004 Monday, METRO EDITION
A; Pg. 1
A QUESTION OF SAFETY
EXPERTS URGE A STATE BAN ON EXOTIC ANIMALS
By David Rice JOURNAL RALEIGH BUREAU
A 12-foot, electrified fence encircles the only federally licensed sanctuary
for big cats in North Carolina. Chain-link "safety cages" for humans
are scattered throughout the Carnivore Preservation Trust's 55-acre compound
in case any animals escape their own cages. And no people go inside the
cages occupied by the 13 tigers that the preserve owns.
In fact, as Pam Fulk approached the cage of a tiger named Pollo last week,
the 450-pound animal crouched behind a foot-tall patch of grass, trying to
hide. Then he playfully lunged at her as she walked by on the other side of
"We want people to understand first of all why you shouldn't keep these as
pets," said Fulk, the trust's executive director. "We continue to emphasize
how dangerous they are. The fact that we're trained and we don't go in with
them should say something."
After two children were attacked in December and January by "pet" tigers in
Wilkes and Surry counties - one fatally - several counties in Northwest
North Carolina are struggling to write regulations on exotic animals. But
Fulk and other keepers of large animals say that it's time to regulate
ownership of exotic animals statewide, in part to prevent the migration of
the animals from counties that have regulations to counties that don't.
"We've had two children attacked by tigers in North Carolina. There should
be no more," said Lorraine Smith, the curator of mammals at the N.C. Zoo in
Asheboro. "A statewide law needs to be there to protect children - and
In response to the death of 10-year-old C.J. Eller in Wilkes County in
December, the U.S. Humane Society called on North Carolina legislators to
ban dangerous exotic pets.
Wayne Pacelle, a senior vice president for the Humane Society, said that
maulings are inevitable when large predators are kept in backyard settings.
"Large wild animals kept as pets are time bombs waiting to go off in
communities throughout North Carolina," Pacelle said.
Though no one knows for sure, Humane Society officials estimate that more
than 5,000 tigers are owned privately in the United States - more than the
number that live in the wild in their native habitat - and most are kept as
Nineteen states have outright bans against big cats and other dangerous
exotics, and 18 states require permits or have a partial ban.
Smith, at the state zoo, says that the state should prohibit individual
ownership of dangerous animal species, but allow owners to keep animals they
already own until they die, as long as the animals are sterilized and aren't
"I think that should be the baseline protection. It's a protection for
humans' health and safety, and it's a protection for animal welfare," Smith
said. "Look what happens to the animals when they commit an infraction -
they very quickly get a death sentence."
Fulk's organization also supports statewide regulation and registration of
"The way it stands right now, anybody can own these animals in most
counties," Fulk said. "It's a patchwork of laws, inconsistent."
With varying local regulations, Fulk said, the owners of big cats tend to
move from counties that have regulations to those that do not, or they fuel
the animal trade.
"Then you end up with a tiger in somebody's back yard - a tiger that they
are ill-prepared for as an adult," she said. Though a tiger might be cute as
a cub, "they don't think about that animal weighing 500 pounds."
Large cats can view children, in particular, as prey. Fulk points out that
man has spent centuries domesticating dogs, yet dogs still bite people every
As Fulk conducts a tour of the cats' cages near Pittsboro, it's clear that
the preserve treats the animals with respect.
One of the first cats a visitor encounters at the compound is an arthritic,
23-year-old jaguar named Elwood who nevertheless has massive paws, neck and
Though Fulk obviously adores the animal, sweet-talking to it through its
chain-link enclosure, her affection has limits. "Would I go in with Elwood?
Never in a million years," she said.
Many of the cats had harsh lives before they came to the preserve, where the
biggest cats are kept in enclosures of 1 to 2 acres.
Fulk pointed out Jellybean, a white Bengal tiger that was sold by a roadside
circus, and his pen mate, Tex.
"Tex was tied to a post in a parking lot in Houston. He was starving, and
somebody just abandoned him there," she said.
Fulk also pointed to the cage of a reclusive tiger named Moose.
"He was hand-raised here, and he dislikes people intensely," she said. "So
there again, it's not whether they're hand-raised."
The Animal Protection Institute in Sacramento, Calif., a nonprofit advocacy
group, also reacted to C.J. Eller's death in December by urging state
legislators to prohibit private ownership of dangerous exotic animals as
pets before another child is killed.
A committee studying a potential exotics ban in Wilkes County used a model
ordinance from the Animal Protection Institute to write a draft of a
The proposal's list of banned pets includes giraffes, camels, lions, tigers,
panthers, bears, wolves, armadillos, rhinoceroses, elephants, monkeys,
prairie dogs, coral snakes, Gila monsters, alligators and others.
But despite the attacks by "pet" tigers in Wilkes and Surry counties, most
legislators from the region seem content to leave the regulation of exotic
animals to local officials.
"I tell people this is a local issue, and they should look to local people
to do that," said Rep. Rex Baker, R-Stokes.
Baker noted, though, that officials in Stokes County are considering a ban
because of worries that a ban in neighboring Surry could prompt a spillover
of exotic pets into Stokes.
Rep. Jim Harrell, D-Surry, said that residents in his district seem willing
to let local officials adopt the rules to avoid unintended effects on, say,
ostrich farmers. "My constituents are just concerned that each area needs to
address it," he said. "I have not perceived a push to do a statewide ban."
Teachers and students at C.J. Eller's school in Wilkes County, though, are
working to get a statewide ban on dangerous exotic animals as pets.
"The students, of course, were very interested in what they could do to help
to keep something like this from happening again," said Rebecca Mastin,
C.J.'s fourth-grade teacher at Moravian Falls Elementary School.
On what would have been C.J.'s 11th birthday, March 14, the students planted
a sugar maple in the boy's memory and held a ceremony at the school.
N.C. Sen. John Garwood, R-Wilkes, was among those invited. One little girl
who had written a letter about the exotic-animal issue and her friend C.J.
handed her letter to Garwood, then broke down in sobs.
"Those kids just cried - it was real sad," Garwood said.
Ashe: Ownership is subject to approval by animal control, county
Davidson: Moratorium on new animals, currently considering new ordinance
Forsyth: Bans ownership of exotic pets
Guilford: Bans ownership of exotic pets
Stokes: Considering a ban, public hearing April 26
Surry: Adopted ban last month on big cats, non-native venomous reptiles,
nonhuman primates and wolves
Watauga: Bans ownership of dangerous or wild animals
Wilkes: Considering a ban, working on a draft
Yadkin: Bans the ownership of inherently dangerous mammals and reptiles
NOTES: Journal reporter Monte Mitchell contributed to this story.
More information about the AR-News