RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Venomous snakes are allowed in most cities across North Carolina. The state has some of the most relaxed laws on owning exotic animals.
Very few cities or counties in the state have gone as far as to ban them altogether.
There are new concerns about the laws after a venom-spitting zebra cobra was on the loose in Raleigh this week. The current overarching state law really only lays out how to house exotic animals.
With lawmakers not coming up with more detailed restrictions, there is a patchwork of rules that change from one zip code to the next across North Carolina.
Despite several requests for information, Raleigh police have not disclosed if any laws were broken during the escape of a zebra cobra.
Questions regarding possible citations and animals confiscated from the cobra owner were returned with an email stating: “The questions you asked are part of the ongoing investigation. We will update the press release with any new information as soon as we are able.”
Neighbors didn’t know they were even in danger until watching the news.
While the animal was on the loose, neighbors were unaware they’d ever been in possible danger. State and local laws don’t require that they be notified if dangerous animals escape or are housed in the area.
Mohamed Aboushadi only learned of the escape by watching the news.
“It was terrifying knowing there was a threat out there. It doesn’t make you feel at ease,” he said.
When it comes to the state’s exotic animal laws, cities don’t have to follow rules set by their county.
Wake County’s animal ordinance prohibits the ownership of dangerous mammals but does not mention dangerous reptiles. Their laws ask owners to post a sign warning of a dangerous dog but no other animals.
Raleigh requires owners vaccinate and tag dogs. Dogs must be leashed when outdoors. City ordinances don’t mention registering other pets or posting signage like the county does.
“I have a snake or I have tiger with a fence, it can jump over and kill people. It’s the same thing. Neighbors need to be notified,” Aboushadi said.
Down the road in Chapel Hill Ali Iyoob was sentenced to two years of probation after he was bitten by his king cobra. Officials said Iyoob had “18 poisonous reptiles and two crushing reptiles” that were in violation of Orange County codes.
The animals were not kept in “escape-proof or bite-proof containers,” documents say.
Orange County and Chapel Hill both ban venomous or crushing reptiles along with monkeys, bears, and wolves.
Dr. Greg Lewbert with North Carolina State’s College of Veterinary Medicine discourages people from owning venomous snakes.
“When you talk about laws, I think we all get nervous that they maybe go too far,” said Lewbert.
Raleigh’s city attorney has now been tasked with taking another look at local ordinances. Wake County chair of the board of commissioners told CBS 17 he also wanted to take another look.
Lewbert wants those reconsiderations to be well thought out. He said there is a lot that can be learned from reptiles.
“What if the law was, they said ‘no snakes from Africa’ and included not harmful animals? That’s where I would get a little nervous,” he explained.
Violating state exotic animal laws is considered a misdemeanor. It could result in jail time or a $1,000 fine if the animal hurts anyone.