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Lawmakers hold town hall to discuss regulations in response to escaped zebra cobra

Town Hall
Town Hall

Senators Jay Chaudhuri and Wiley Nickel held a virtual town hall meeting last night, discussing state and local efforts to regulate dangerous and wild animals in North Carolina. The efforts come on the tail of an incident last month involving a venomous zebra cobra that was loose in a Raleigh neighborhood for two days. Guest lawmakers, as well as local experts, weighed in on this most recent incident.

Dr. Gregory Lewbart, veterinarian and Professor of Zoology at NC State University, is a lifelong admirer of snakes, and he has worked closely with them throughout his career. Dr. Lewbart said that venomous snake bites are rarely fatal, but emphasized the dangers that come with a bite include tissue damage, organ failure, and in some cases amputation. He also spoke of the dangers present if the animal were to escape, with potential impacts to native wildlife, humans, and the animal itself. The owner of the escaped zebra cobra, Christopher Gifford, was himself treated recently for a bite from a green mamba. He faces 40 misdemeanor charges in connection with the zebra cobra incident, including failure to report the escape.

"I love snakes, but I also understand the concern people have about venomous snakes," Dr. Lewbart said. "There is a place for venomous snakes in human care, but it is not in the home. It's with professionals."

Senator Wiley Nickel, whose district includes the neighborhood with the escaped zebra cobra, weighed in on his plans for the state level. "North Carolina has virtually no regulations for the keeping of non-native venomous snakes, especially compared to just about every other state in the country," says Nickel. "We need to get our laws to a place that are appropriately protecting folks in our community." Sen. Nickel says a potential bill could mirror legislation that is currently moving through South Carolina's legislature. "These are not animals that anybody should be able to keep as pets," Nickel said.

At the local level, Raleigh City Councilmember David Knight is working with legal staff and studying other laws currently in place around the country to see what the most appropriate course of action for the city of Raleigh would be. "I've had more communication from constituents about this issue than literally any other. I'm very interested in getting Raleigh in line with the rest of cities who have ordinances that regulate or ban poisonous (sic) snakes from their city limits," he said. A draft ordinance is expected to be brought forth for public input in August, and will include snakes as well as other wild animals.

If you would like to weigh in on this issue, contact your state and local representatives. You can find out what district you live in and who represents you here.