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North Carolina Exotic Animal Ban House Bill 554

Melissa cares for a variety of exotic animals and has completed a certificate in veterinary assisting and a bachelor's degree in biology.

*Note, the cat in the photo is a Savannah cat, hybrid with a serval, therefore it would likely be banned.

*Note, the cat in the photo is a Savannah cat, hybrid with a serval, therefore it would likely be banned.

House Bill 554: What Is It?

North Carolina Republican Representative Chuck McGrady teamed up with the The Humane Society of the United States, notorious among various animal circles for their ideology which is akin to PETA's, to spearhead a bill that seeks to “Protect Public from Dangerous Wild Animals”. In the bill, "wild animal" is defined as all members of the following classifications (including hybrids of):

  • Canidae
  • Felidae
  • Primate
  • Ursidae
  • Hyaenidae


  • House bill would ban 'dangerous' animals
    State House members have passed a bill that would ban the breeding, possession or sale of dangerous exotic animals. A last-minute change would exempt small monkeys.

Several revisions to the bill have been made and USDA AND ZAA-ACCREDITED FACILITIES ARE NOW EXEMPTED.

Please disregard the parts of this article that apply to those facilities at this current time, but I will leave the information up for archival purposes.

Problems that still remain with HB 554

  • Small foxes that pose no threat to public safety would not be legal without a license. (CORRECTION: I've recently discovered that unfortunately, all foxes are not legal in North Carolina because they are 'rabies vectors'.)
  • Hybrid cats that pose no threat to public safety appear to not be legal without a license.
  • While some primate species (marmosets, lemurs, lorises, capuchin monkeys) have been exempted from the bill and would be legal to own without a license, other small species have not been named, such as tamarins, squirrel monkeys, and owl monkeys.

Thank you to the sponsors and voters who have contributed to amending the bill to make it more reasonable. Most importantly, thank you for ignoring the agenda-driven Humane Society of the United State's absurd blanket ban for all non-AZA accredited facilities!

“As for the specifics of the bill, I basically went to the Humane Society and asked the Humane Society for a draft bill, and I largely incorporated the recommendations made by the Humane Society in the bill,”

—Representative Chuck McGrady

There is an inherent problem when people who are not educated about exotic animals formulate ban legislation about them under the guidance of ideologically-motivated special interest groups who want to eliminate them.

Other sponsors

Primary sponsors: Representative Pat B. Hurley, Representative Jon Hardister, Representative Jason Saine.

The people who helped pen the bill's language:

  • Carolina Tiger Rescue
  • North Carolina Veterinary Medical Association (NCVMA)
  • Kimberley Alboum is the state director of HSUS's North Carolina chapter.

The Humane Society of the United States Firmly Opposes Zoos

Are enemies of zoos using 'public safety concerns' to get their way?

Through the use of specious wording, the Humane Society of the United States states on their website that they do not support zoos, but concedes that they are a "fact of life".

They only hate so-called roadside zoos most of all.They specifically state that they do not want zoos to breed animals or acquire them in any way, and that zoos should become 'sanctuaries', translating to a facility that houses animals until they are extinct in captivity. No such exception is stated for even conservation purposes. Why is Rep. Chuck McGrady asking them for help with this bill?

"The Humane Society of the United States believes that under most circumstances wild animals should ideally be permitted to exist undisturbed in their natural environments. Zoos are, however, a currently established part of our society and a fact of life"

"We also urge zoos to act as sanctuaries for wild animals, providing facilities for animals in need rather than breeding them for exhibition purposes or acquiring them from the wild or from exotic animal dealers."

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All of these animals will be prohibited for possession with the exemption of:

  • AZA-accredited zoos (Association of Zoos and Aquariums)
  • Research Facilities
  • Wildlife 'Sanctuaries' (no breeding)
  • Circuses
  • Animal Protection Organizations, Veterinary Hospitals, and Law Enforcement for temporary purposes only.

You Should Oppose This Bill If You...

  • Support any zoos or educational exhibitors that are not accredited by the AZA and do not fit the above criteria.
  • Animal 'ambassador' programs/mobile children's zoos
  • Believe in breeding animals for conservation purposes offsite.
  • Support responsible exotic pet ownership and not punishing everyone for the actions of a few.
  • Believe that people have the right to exercise their freedom to pursue an animal-related business or own certain animals even if you don't personally agree with it, as long as appropriate husbandry and safety procedures are carried out.

This Bill Is Not About Animal Welfare

HR455 specifically states that it only addresses public safety, and it is irrefutable that not all the species it would prohibit are any kind of public safety threat. Of course, this concept is rather arbitrary, but compared to cats and dogs, in the worst case scenario, some members of Canidae, like fennec foxes, are equivalent in 'risk' to small cats and dogs.

For those who oppose 'wild' animals in captivity or for human use, you may want to take note that circuses are exempt, likely as a concession on the Humane Society's part in order to get the bill passed. Again, they are currently a "fact of life", and a previous proposal for a blanket ban on numerous exotic pets in North Carolina failed (SB 1032).

While circuses are certainly not AZA-accredited or 'animal sanctuaries', this exemption seems to indicate that circuses are safer than USDA, or even ZAA-accredited facilities, which makes no sense.

Why would performers that directly interact with large, dangerous animals (a way to increase your chance of injury or death 1000-fold) continue to be able to breed or obtain them and not exhibitors who stay out of the cage?

AZA-accreditation Is Not Just About Safety and Welfare

The Association of Zoos and Aquariums looks for more than just 'are you caring for your animal properly and are your enclosures secure and safe?' The AZA looks at educational signs, which species they allow to be displayed, visitor accommodations, and aesthetic elements of the facility. They will also decide how you can run your animal interaction programs (or if) based on what they believe is 'positive' in a modern zoo.

Smaller zoos or nature centers will find it unreasonably expensive to even apply for AZA accreditation, let alone maintain it. Obviously, merely based on the nature of the facility, private owners cannot get accredited, even if they provide top notch care. Opportunities for the innovation of zoo techniques will be substantially decreased.


Not accredited because...

  • For AZA-accreditation you will need: "basic facilities to accommodate guests, including restrooms, drinking fountains, food facilities, and rest areas." Here is an example of a private zoo that does not have that: Leo Zoological Conservation Center.
  • The Toronto Zoo lost its accreditation status because its zoo board voted to send three elephants to an animal 'sanctuary'. Would that mean, if the zoo was hypothetically located in North Carolina, that it would be unable to obtain primates, big cats, and canids in the future?
  • ZooMontana lost its accreditation because "a long-term funding plan was not sufficiently in place".
  • The Binghamton Zoo lost its accreditation because of "concerns about deferred maintenance, low employee salaries and financial instability".

Conservation Effects

Facilities that are not open to the public like the The Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (which is accredited) and Leo Zoological Conservation Center (which isn't) are desperately needed for sensitive species like cheetahs and clouded leopards that are stressed on public display and therefore have reduced breeding success. Some private owners even focus their efforts on breeding underrepresented species like small felids that AZA-accredited zoos phase out.

Smaller-Scale, Animal Ambassador Programs with the Prohibited Species: ILLEGAL


"Studies by Yerke and Burns (1991) and Davison and her colleagues (1993) evaluated the effect live animal shows had on visitor attitudes. Both found their shows successfully influenced attitudes about conservation and stewardship."

'I don't think tigers should be pets, isn't this a good bill?'

That depends. If you feel that this facility, Conservators Center (who just received a grant from the NCVMA, one of the groups that helped pen the langauge of the bill!), aren't 'pet owners' and should not be barred from obtaining more animals after June 1st, 2015, then no, you DO NOT want to support this bill (see video below).

Throwing the baby out with the bathwater legislation

Conservators Center is not AZA-accredited or defined as a sanctuary.

Because they are only licensed by the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), they are essentially private owners who exhibit their animals. This facility has 5 star Yelp and Trip Advisor ratings. Either the sponsors of the bill were willing to severely impact zoos like this unreasonably, or they were unaware of how many respectable facilities are not AZA-accredited.

If you think the Humane Society was not aware of this when wording the bill, think again.

Many educational facilities, conservation centers, and animal rescues start out as 'private owners'. Not all animals in the listed taxa require professional expertise to carry out optimal welfare and safety. So, if you are against pet owners but support decent zoos, deciding who deserves to exist is just NOT THAT SIMPLE.

Chuck McGrady has stated that the bill's intention is not to shut down places like Conservators Center, but why would he want to shut ANYONE down when private owners are not inherently bad caretakers? He owes it to North Carolina's citizens who do honest work or responsibly care for exotics to protect their rights.

Carolina Tiger Rescue, a contributor of the bill and exempted from the ban because they fit the definition of "sanctuary", described Conservators Center's opposition to the fact that they will NO LONGER BE ABLE TO OBTAIN THE LISTED SPECIES as "histrionics" and, revealing their apathetic concern with the zoo's plight:

"A decision to close or kill animals is up to each organization but not necessary to comply with this bill."



"I still don't want anyone owning exotic pets"

While the prejudice against exotic pet owners runs deep, this country was founded on the principals of individual freedom, and one's personal opinions (such as the views the Humane Society of the United States holds) should not infringe upon the rights of others. If the ownership of dogs, cats, and hamsters is culturally embraced, we cannot, as a nation, judge the ownership of 'alternative' animals with nil evidence of its cruelty.

It should be noted that while the consumption of animal products is obviously inherently bad for animals, personal opinions do not eliminate that freedom for others. I would expect (erroneously) that attitudes toward the housing and care of animals that happen not to be domesticated would be softened in comparison.

Interestingly, in some states, some non-domesticated animals are allowed to be raised in sub-optimal conditions for fur production (see: possession of foxes exempted from exotic animal ban for fur farmers) or 'canned hunts' (see the story of Wiley the coyote; permits issued for torture by dogs but not for pet owners), but no permits are issued to own and care for these animals as pets.

The Overwhelming Evidence that Exotic Pets are Not a Significant Public Safety Threat

Gabrielle C. Tegeder has written a comprehensive research paper (over 200 pages) analyzing exotic pets in the United States and surveying the effects of their presence by state. While I strongly urge reading the entire paper, it should be mandatory for legislators to at least read 'Incidences of Exotic Pet Attacks' on page 78. In addition, I've conducted my own research compiling statistics involving exotic cats and injurious or fatal incidences involving them. The facts, based on assessing the reported incidences among exotic pets, support my position that exotic pets pose minimal threat to public safety.

  • I've calculated that in the past 25 years (1990-2014) there has been approximately 6 incidents where a member of the public who did not own, visit, or live with an exotic captive cat was attacked by one. None were fatal.
  • A similar trend, with the exception of primates, has been recorded for all 'exotic pets'. "As Table 4.1 illustrates, the total number of exotic pet attacks is relatively small in any given year. From the injuries reported in my study, nearly all are to the owners of the animals, or to friends or relatives of the owners of the animals, with the exception of primates" (Tegeder, 2015).
  • "Every year, more than 800,000 Americans receive medical attention for dog bites; at least half of them are children." (AVMA)
  • Between 2000-2012, there has been 1 fatality caused by an exotic pet mammal in North Carolina (Tegeder, 2015).
  • In the states where it is legal to own primates (Virginia, West Virgina, Wisconsin, North Carolina, and Montana) there has been a combined total of 12 incidences of injury caused by primates between 2000-2012 and zero fatalities (Tegeder, 2015).
  • "In regard to exotic pets, there are only a few applicable diseases that are discussed in relation to potential zoonotic transfer to humans. While many of these are valid zoonotic diseases, very few have been demonstrably passed to humans from exotic pets" (Tegeder, 2015).

*Note. While primates are the most likely species to attack a member of the public out of the exotic pets, it should be noted that the risk of attack from all exotic pet species is insignificant. The large majority of them are not described as 'serious non-fatal' and there are also zero fatalities.


Author's Recommendations

The only common sense and fair way to address the already insignificant exotic pet 'problem' would be to regulate inherently dangerous species (big cats, bears, 'large' monkeys and all great apes) by requiring a permit for the ownership of these animals that would be available to anyone who is equipped, mentally and financially, to care for them.

Attacks to members of the 'uninvolved' public are already rare, so that leaves us with the task of animal welfare and protecting people from their own decisions. Therefore, as a way to address both animal welfare standards and to decrease chances of the animals escaping, resulting in inexperienced animal control workers needing to deal with them, permits can be issued based on various criteria for dangerous animals only. Below is my prototype for how exotic pet laws can be shaped. Also refer to North Dakota's permitting system, as described in Tegeder, 2015.

What should I do?

If you agree with this article's firm position that House Bill 554 is a bad bill and should be completely killed, you are in the minority. Most cannot see past their perceptions of exotic pet owners or empathize with their plight that their choice of animal or lifestyle will be prohibited. Many people also oppose zoos and are critical of unaccredited facilities thanks to the persistent lobbying efforts of the Humane Society of the United States and other groups like Big Cat Rescue.

Therefore, it is imperative that if you agree with this article, contact North Carolina's representatives and VOICE YOUR OPPOSITION to House Bill 554.


Every, single, little email or phone call helps, and we cannot just sit by while bans continue to flourish. We must put pressure continuously on legislators so that they will know that just like any owner of dogs and cats, our animals and businesses are important, and we will not tolerate these unfair and uneducated attempts to destroy our livelihoods.


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This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.


Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on February 10, 2018:

Yes, for now.

ManNewt on February 02, 2018:

Was this bill killed?

Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on May 10, 2016:

Sorry for the delay Wolfycat47, while this bill hasn't made it to the Senate there will be many new introductions and variations of it. You can write and call legislators there if you want to help. I'm not sure how to keep up with your own state other than following certain exotic groups for notifications.

Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on April 09, 2016:

Xiomara: So this bill is basically a way for you to force your sad ego on everyone else who doesn't agree with you?

Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on April 09, 2016:

bcrichnc-- Don't project your incompetence on the rest of us.

Wolfycat47 on April 08, 2016:

These last two comments are most likely from militant PETA jerks. You know, the ones that pretend to care about animals and leave a trail of dead animal bodies wherever they go and trash cans full of syringes and needles used for euthanasia.

If they had it their way, all animals would be set free to fend for themselves. Just ask the wolves how well it is working out for them! Please ask all the wild animals, birds, pets and people who happen upon traps and snares and lose lives and limbs how wonderful it is to be free in this present world. Ask wolves and coyotes how much fun it is to see your offspring murdered, poisoned and gassed and how wonderful it is to be shot down from helicopters and to have every inch of space taken up by cattle and sheep where you once roamed, freely. Ask the poached tigers, rhinos and elephants how freedom is working out for them and the ones left for dead because some asshole cut their body parts off.

As for your arrogant assumption that "a bunch of assholes" could not possibly know how to care for wild animals or animals rescued from horrific situations, you are horribly incorrect! I agree with licensing and guidelines for those who wish to keep them, but banning them is not the answer. I guess you think it is better to see them all killed than to live their lives in peace, safety and comfort. There are numerous people who do care greatly and have the knowledge to do so with great success.

You types never want to give an inch, but you take miles when it comes to your own personal rights and freedoms.

Your understanding of what is really going on lacks any care at all for the animals involved.

Xiomara on April 07, 2016:

People! The animals don't exist to entertain us!!!!

I totally support this bill.

Justine on April 07, 2016:

Hello, I was wondering if anyone knows when the next hearing is for this bill?? I want to help in the fight against HB554.

Wolfycat47 on April 07, 2016:

How can I help from a different state and how can I find out if my local politicians are trying to do this in my state?

ManNewt on November 05, 2015:

I dont really know if hsus will be merciless towards USDA or ZAA facilities this time, but my gut tells me that small primate owners (if they got exempted last time), procyonids, pythons and most other non-traditional pet owners might get harmed this time.

Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on November 05, 2015:


ManNewt on November 05, 2015:

ALERT !! hsus is trying to tighten the NC regulations!

ManNewt on August 14, 2015:

I want to see hsus's headquarters burn (just like those labs that are burnt by liberationists that peta and hsus is supporting) right before me as munch a bucket of popcorn (or smoke a cigar/pipe if I am old enough) for mangling the rights of current and future citizens of "the free-est country on the planet". Or at least actually protesting its (hsus) existence if I can afford going to the States

Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on May 08, 2015:

Kim, please send me that conversation via email I have to see it to believe it. Did you write in a respectful tone? The bill has already moved to senate. What kind of animals were you planning on keeping? Please get in touch with me, thanks.

Kim on May 08, 2015:

I wrote to everyone listed @ the bottom of this article including Chuck Mcgrady letting him know I oppose the bill & his response was, 'I hope you move to another state!' Can you believe that?! I planned on moving to NC this summer & opening up a small zoo. Obviously my plans are now ruined! Anyone know how to keep up w/ it's progress in the Senate? What can we do to stop this ??? We MUST stop it from becoming law!!!

Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on May 01, 2015:

Becklee N Jorge-- Where did you learn that? If so I've made a huge error in telling people to thank her. Please thank Hurley profusely for the exemptions.

Becklee N Jorge on May 01, 2015:

Hello! Thank you for this article . I am in North Carolina And actively fighting this bill. It has passed through the House and is now in the Senate. One thing I would like to mention is Pricey Harrison voted against the admendment to the small monkey exemption. I plan to follow up with her but to me it appears she may very well be against private ownership.

Holly on May 01, 2015:

This can not happen! I have 12 chinchillas, hedgehogs, and about to purchase a coatimundi and maybe more exotics in the future! It is our right to do so

love brown on April 30, 2015:

I am against this bill....

Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on April 29, 2015:

What you are doing is essential Shannon, thank you for your support. My family has purchased a lot in NC but we don't live there right now. If you know any other residents that support exotic animal possession or the affected zoos please notify them too. Thanks again.

Shannon Perry from HENDERSONVILLE on April 29, 2015:

Thanks Melissa, I find myself frequently on your hubpages. They are always well written. I'm in NC and am doing what I can to generate some support against this bill. It's ridiculous. As if I didn't already have reasons to hate this state....

Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on April 29, 2015:

Hi Breck123, I would email the sponsors (especially McGrady) and give them quick and concise facts about why you oppose the bill, numbered or bulleted. Place 'I OPPOSE House Bill 554' in the title of your email, and don't state where you live. The HSUS always gets support internationally from their supporters as well, bombarding people and organizations with letters and petitions. Thank you for helping.

Breck123 on April 29, 2015:

This is insane. I live in Canada, any way I can help? I don't think they would listen to one from another country.

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