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For Immediate Release: 10/23/06

Leopard attack at N.C. zoo highlights need for legislation of dangerous wild animals

Recent investigation and USDA complaint documented public safety and animal welfare issues at facility

Ashe County, NC — The Animal Protection Institute (API), a national animal advocacy organization, is calling upon legislators to ban the ownership of dangerous wild and exotic animals in North Carolina after a woman was reportedly attacked and severely injured by a leopard at the New River Zoo in Fleetwood, NC.

API’s recent investigation of the facility, and subsequent March 2006 filing of a USDA complaint citing various violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act, proves that legislation protecting public safety and animal welfare must be introduced during the next legislative session.

In its investigation, API documented zoo employees allowing, and encouraging, visitors to pet a leopard who was being walked around the facility on a leash, both violations of federal law. API also documented animals kept in inappropriate enclosures, many of which were too small for the species housed within them, resulting in displays of stress and abnormal behavior in some animals including snow monkeys, lemurs, and foxes.

In its complaint to the USDA, API’s investigators noted their safety, and the safety of other zoo visitors, was put at risk by the New River Zoo. API documented its concerns that members of the public will continue to be put at risk if no enforcement action is taken.

“We have provided clear, documented evidence that the irresponsible behavior of this zoo presents a real danger to people and animals, yet the USDA has failed to take action on our complaint,” says Nicole Paquette, Director of Legal & Government Affairs for API. “The USDA is incapable of regulating these owners or the care of these animals and, as we warned, the public is at risk. State legislation is the answer.”

This incident follows the August raid at Metrolina Wildlife Park in Rockwell, another facility API investigated and filed a USDA complaint against, where police found weapons, drugs, and illegal exotic and endangered animals.

North Carolina is 1 of only 11 states with no laws prohibiting the private possession of exotic animals such as cougars, tigers, bears, nonhuman primates, and dangerous reptiles. North Carolina has seen a number of serious incidents involving exotic animals in recent years, including the fatal 2003 attack of a 10-year-old boy and 2004 mauling of a 14-year-old girl, both by tigers kept as family pets.

“The owners of these facilities are playing roulette with people’s lives,” says Paquette. “For the safety of people and animals in North Carolina, the legislature must act now to prohibit dangerous wild and exotic animals from being kept in private hands.”

API has worked with North Carolina legislators this year on a study bill on the keeping of exotic animals, which recently passed. This study bill directs a team of experts to study the dangers that these animals pose and come up with a solution to the problem.

API works to end animal cruelty and exploitation through legislation, litigation, and public education. API is a nationally recognized leader on exotic animal legislation and assists states in drafting and passing legislation. API also manages a 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.

B-roll footage and still photos available; email press@api4animals.org.

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Contact:
Zibby Wilder, Animal Protection Institute, 916-447-3085 x205

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