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For Immediate Release: 02/23/06

Major Investigation Exposes the Dangerous Reality of Exotic “Pets” in North Carolina

Video tapes document brazen disregard for animal care, public safety, and the law

Sacramento, CA — The Animal Protection Institute (API) today released the results of an extensive investigation into the largely unregulated private ownership of exotic wild animals kept as “pets” or used as “attractions” at roadside zoos and menageries. The video footage and accompanying report are the most thorough on record and expose disturbing evidence of a lack of concern for public safety and animal welfare by both private owners and federally licensed facilities across the nation and specifically, in North Carolina. Major findings include:

  • Federally licensed facilities putting themselves and others, including children, in danger of attack
  • a number of previously unreported injuries and attacks by exotic animals on owners and others
  • public safety concerns including inadequate barriers and visitors allowed direct contact with dangerous exotic animals
  • poor animal care conditions

Specific examples include the Charlotte Metro Zoo (also known as Metrolina Wildlife Park) in Rockwell, NC, where API investigators documented inadequate animal care, child endangerment and reckless behavior by the owner, such as forcing a tiger’s mouth open and putting his face inside. At Santa’s Land in Cherokee, NC, children were openly encouraged to pet bears, a staff member saying, “Our insurance company says no petting. However, if you decide you want to pet them, keep in mind we’re not liable, OK? Now they will bite...

North Carolina currently has no laws governing the keeping, display, breeding or selling of captive animals such as bears, cougars, tigers and primates. Currently S. 1032, which requires the state to study the issue of keeping exotic animals as pets, is pending before the state legislature. In light of our investigation results, API would like to see the state pass legislation prohibiting the future private ownership of exotic animals.

“API’s investigation shows that these exotic wild animals do not belong in our homes or neighborhoods,” says Michelle Thew, Chief Executive Officer of API. “Action has to be taken now to put an end to the private ownership of exotic animals to stop the suffering of these animals and before there is another tragedy.”

North Carolina has seen several reported serious incidences involving exotic animals in the recent past including the tragic December 2003 case of a 10-year-old boy who was mauled to death when he was pulled under a fence and into a cage by his aunt’s “pet” tiger. Nationwide, serious incidents are becoming increasingly common. For example, in August, a 17-year-old Kansas girl was killed by a privately owned tiger while posing for her senior portrait; and in June, a 12-year-old Minnesota boy’s spine was severed after being attacked by a lion and tiger at a store where they were being kept as pets.

“Across the nation, dangerous dogs are more regulated than these dangerous wild animals. This is an accident waiting to happen,” says Thew.

The American Veterinary Medical Association, the United States Department of Agriculture, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Animal Control Association, and the American Zoo and Aquarium Association each oppose the private ownership of certain exotic animals.

API is a national nonprofit animal advocacy organization working to end animal cruelty and exploitation through legislation, litigation, and public education. API also manages a 186-acre Primate Sanctuary that is currently home to more than 400 primates, many of whom were rescued from abusive or exploitative private ownership situations. For more information, visit www.api4animals.org.


A press kit including report highlights, DVD B-roll and report, or still images on CD are available upon request; email press@api4animals.org.

Zibby Wilder, Animal Protection Institute (API), 916-447-3085 x205

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