Zebra cobra owner could potentially face charges, Wake County reconsidering animal ordinance

Wake County News

RALEIGH, NC (WNCN) – The zebra cobra snake that was once loose in Raleigh is now in the custody of animal services.

A source tells CBS 17 animal services confiscated all the other venomous snakes from the cobra owner as well

CBS 17 asked Raleigh police about potential citations, how many animals were confiscated, and if the owner violated state law. The department has not responded to our questions.

The snake was found after an unintentional encounter by CBS 17 Judith Retana.

At the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, herpetologist, Bryan Stuart, said Retana was close enough to get seriously hurt.

“I’m a herpetologist and I have never seen a zebra cobra outside of a captive environment before so that was really quite an encounter,” he said.

He knows people keep all kinds of venomous animals as pets.

“In terms of keeping a spitting cobra as a pet, I personally would never recommend it. Absolutely not,” Stuart said.

The capture brought relief for neighbors. Even those like Westin Cooke who are keen on snakes.

“If they have the right criteria to have one then that’s fine but for them to let it escape was pretty stupid,” Cooke said.

Retana went back to the snake owner’s home to get answers about the escape. A man inside asked her to leave the property.

Exotic animal laws

North Carolina’s exotic animal law, Article 55, makes owners responsible for the safekeeping of venomous snakes with no license required. It calls for a bite-proof, escape-proof, locked enclosure. It requires to label enclosures if the animals are venomous and have an escape recovery plan.

“There are a lot of people who like to keep them and some of those people have a lot of experience have learned over the years of husbandry of venomous snakes how to handle them safely, there’s still always risk of accidents,” said Stuart.

The escaped snake has now turned into a legal issue. A judge needs to determine whether the owner broke the law. That judge will then determine whether the snakes are permanently confiscated or can return back to the owner.

The owner could face misdemeanor charges and be held responsible for the state’s cost of relocating the snakes.

While the state has its general guidance, It’s up to individual jurisdictions to come up with more restrictive guidelines for exotic animals.

Wake County has no additional restrictions on exotics. CBS 17 reached out to the chair of the board of commissioners to ask if they were reconsidering. Chairperson Matt Calabria said, “The incident involving the zebra cobra has brought to light the need for us to review our current ordinances.  The safety of our residents is and will continue to be our top priority.  Our staff is now analyzing our policies, and I expect that the Commission will receive feedback from them in the near future.  We would then consider taking action based on staff feedback and recommendations.”

Even if the county changes the rules, they wouldn’t apply to Raleigh. The city would need it’s own ordinance update.

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