Local zoos and animal attractions have been boosting travel and tourism and helping to educate and entertain the public for many years. Especially in Wilmington, North Carolina, which features the oldest zoo in the state as well as the state’s largest and most impressive herpetological collection. In North Carolina, animal attractions must be inspected, licensed and regulated by the USDA for mammals and the WRC for protected reptiles. In addition, there are many other laws and statutes that regulate how wild animals may be kept, bred, exhibited and transported in this state. With strict requirements and regulation that includes mandatory veterinary and safety inspections, your local animal attractions are far more likely to be a positive educational and economic resource for the community than a potential threat to public safety or animal welfare.

Unfortunately that’s not the way some animal rights activists see it. In 2006, under the appointment of the North Carolina General Assembly, a study committee began to debate new legislation to regulate “inherently dangerous exotic animals” in North Carolina. This committee was mandated to consult with and represent the interests of 12 groups that would be affected by the proposed legislation, including exotic animal owners, breeders, educators, small zoos and attractions. However, five of the 12 groups named seemed to have been completely left out of this process, while the “humane groups” including animal rights activists were significantly over-represented.

In addition, some rather odd shenanigans went on when the zoo and sanctuary folks who had been left out tried to find out what was going on. In violation of North Carolina’s Open Meetings Act, a “sunshine law”, we were told that the meetings were closed to the public. Legally they cannot be. What was going on that we were not supposed to know about?

This much we do know. SB1032 was originally written by API (Animal Protection Institute), an animal rights advocacy group from Sacramento, California. API’s stated goals are to ban or severely restrict not only zoos and other animal attractions, but all “human use” of animals including farming, hunting, fishing, pet keeping and meat eating. API is quite open about their ultimate agenda and about taking public credit for authoring this bill. We, the independent zoo and wildlife professionals of North Carolina, are very concerned that their activities in North Carolina may lead to the closing of local zoos and attractions statewide if they are left unchecked.

Even though API is openly anti-zoo and opposes all captive wildlife, they were invited into our state by Lorraine Smith, Curator of Mammals at the Asheboro Zoo. Our tax dollars support the Asheboro Zoo, since they do not bring in anywhere near enough revenue to be self supporting. Yet they are asking the state for a government granted coercive monopoly on the entire zoo and wildlife industry in this state, closing down all other zoos and wildlife facilities including rescue sanctuaries. And the zoo director is currently chairing the study group legislative advisory committee that will help decide whether any other zoos will be allowed to operate in the state of North Carolina.

We don’t think it would be a good idea for the director of WalMart to chair a committee that helps decide whether to pass a law that bans all stores in North Carolina that are not owned by WalMart. Unfortunately that is exactly what is happening in our legislature right now. Between animal rights extremists from California and the only zoo in the state that would benefit economically from a ban, this committee’s composition is not likely to produce a decision that fairly represents the best interests of North Carolina.

Tanith Tyrr, Curator of Reptiles at the Cape Fear Serpentarium, says “It’s a bit of a bizarre situation, as we’re the folks who actually help and rescue wild animals and advocate for their welfare, and we find ourselves on the opposite side of a very nasty war with these “animal rights” people. I’d like to see any of them pick up an injured rattlesnake and give it antibiotics and rehabilitation care before releasing it back into the wild, which is what we do. Or provide veterinary care and housing for unwanted, abandoned or abused big cats for the rest of their lives, which is what CCI does. We do what the big zoos can’t or won’t for lack of time and space. We’re the ones out there really helping and rescuing animals.

“We are the independent zoo and wildlife professionals of the state of North Carolina, and we are the evil that these so-called animal rights people are fighting against. We do not abuse animals. We help and rescue them, and we educate your children to respect animals and the environment they live in.

“These extremists want to make it illegal for us to do our jobs in this state, which in practice means suffering and death for the animals that we care about. The “rights” they want to give animals in this state is the right to suffer and die. PETA kills animals.”

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