Escaped venomous snake exposes need for updated ordinance in Raleigh, city leaders respond

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Thursday, July 7, 2022
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Council member David Knight started a push for a citywide ban on dangerous snakes after a venomous snake escaped from a home last year.

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Raleigh adopted a citywide ordinance to address exotic animals being kept as pets. Council members amended the Raleigh City Code to add the "dangerous wild animals" ordinance.

The ordinance, which passed a city council vote Tuesday, comes a year after a venomous zebra cobra was loose for days in the Raleigh area. It was discovered that the owner of the snake had several other venomous snakes and he was in violation of a North Carolina statute.

"I think it just drives it underground. You know, if someone truly wants these animals, they're probably going to find a way to get them no matter what. So if you push it underground and you make it even more illegal, there's less visibility. Whereas as you provide resources, education, steps to keep everyone safe, I think that's more effective than pushing it underground," Grace Danks with Annwn Animal Sanctuary said.

In June 2021, ABC11 reported that Christopher Gifford, 21, was found to have violated NC General Statute Chapter 14, Article 55. It states that, if a person owns an exotic venomous snake, the owner must know and have labeled each of its species, know the proper antivenom that would be required for it, have a bite and escape plan, and if an escape does happen -- the owner must notify law enforcement immediately.

According to Raleigh police, Gifford's criminal summons included 36 counts of improper enclosures, three counts of mislabeled enclosures and one count of failure to report escape. In August 2021, Gifford pleaded guilty to the violations and as part of the plea deal, he had to surrender the snakes to authorities.

Council member David Knight started a push for a citywide ban on dangerous snakes after the incident.

"It could have ended tragically...as a consequence of irresponsible, reckless and dangerous behavior," Knight said.

Tuesday, city council voted to pass the ordinance which will take effect in September but grandfather in current owners of exotic pets.

"Adding additional laws on top of that wouldn't necessarily make a difference. If someone's going to break the law, they're going to break the law. I think it comes back to how can we support ethical pet ownership or ethical animal ownership and support people with the education they need," Danks said.

When asked if the venomous zebra cobra guy made things worse for everyone, Danks replied, "potentially".

The ordinance defines "dangerous wild animals" as: Any non-domesticated animal, which is normally found in the wild state, is inherently dangerous to person or property, and which generally does not live in or about the habitation of humans, including but not limited to lions, tigers, leopards, cougars, jaguars, cheetahs, wolves, non-human primates, medically significant venomous snakes, crocodilians, and any hybrid or crossbreed of such animals. Where the City is preempted by Federal or State law from exercising its power to regulate dangerous wild animals as herein defined, this definition shall not apply for purposes of enforcement of this Chapter."

The ordinance includes a separate definition for 'medically significant venomous snake': "A medically significant venomous snake means a venomous or poisonous species whose venom or toxin can cause death or serious illness or injury in humans that may require emergency room care or immediate care of a physician."

People in Raleigh who violate this new ordinance could be forced to give up the animals and pay a fine of $500 per animal. They would also be responsible for paying the city back for costs related to having to capture, store or euthanize the animals.

However, people who can prove that they owned their exotic pet prior to Sept. 3, 2022 will be grandfathered into the law, and therefore not be forced to get rid of their animals. Penalties for violations include seizure of the animals and a fine of $500.00 per animal and reimbursement to the city for costs related to seizure, shelter or euthanization of the animals.

Full text of the Dangerous Wild Animal Ordinance.