AN ACT PROVIDING FOR PROTECTION OF THE PUBLIC AGAINST THE HEALTH AND SAFETY RISKS THAT CERTAIN DANGEROUS WILD ANIMALS POSE TO THE COMMUNITY AND FOR AN END TO CERTAIN EXCEPTIONS TO THE WILDLIFE AND ANIMAL CRUELTY STATUTES.
Enacts Article 7, Dangerous Wild Animals, to GS Chapter 19A. Sets out definitions for animal control authority; circus; dangerous wild animal; law enforcement officer; person; and wildlife sanctuary. Defines dangerous wild animal as any live animal of specified scientific classifications in the Class Mammalia, and includes the following from specified order and family: grey wolves; all species of felids (except domestic cats) and including hybrids of lions, leopards, clouded leopards, snow leopards, jaguars, cheetahs, and mountain lions; all species of hyenas and aardwolves; all species of bears; apes, old world monkeys, new world monkeys (except humans), all species of marmosets, capuchin monkeys, lemurs, and lorises.
Prohibits any person from possessing, selling, transferring, or breeding a dangerous wild animal. Also prohibits any person from allowing any member of the public to come into direct or physical contact with a dangerous wild animal, regardless of the animal's age. Specifies that employees, supervised interns or volunteers, and students at public or private universities and colleges engaged in academic coursework or research are not included as members of the public. Provides for 12 exemptions, including circuses and wildlife sanctuaries. Excludes persons who lawfully possessed a dangerous wild animal prior to June 1, 2021, so long as the person complies with ten detailed requirements and restrictions, including maintaining specified records and annually registering with a local animal control authority, with the initial registration by September 1, 2021. Makes ineligible for the prior possession exclusion any person convicted of an offense involving the abuse or neglect of any animal. Requires any person transporting a dangerous wild animal to keep the animal at all times in a species-appropriate cage or travel container and comply with federal transport requirements. Requires any person possessing a dangerous wild animal to keep the animal in a permanent enclosure designed to be escape-proof and having an operable lock. Prohibits any person from allowing members of the public within 15 feet of the animal unless there is a permanent barrier in place, as described. Prohibits any person from knowingly releasing a dangerous wild animal into the wild.
Provides for enforcement of the Article by any State law enforcement officer or any other law enforcement officer with jurisdiction, or any animal control authority with jurisdiction. Specifies that the Article does not prohibit a city or county from adopting or enforcing any ordinance or other law that places more restrictive restrictions or additional requirements on the possession, sale, transfer, or breeding of dangerous wild animals. Authorizes and provides for the seizure or impounding of animals that are possessed, sold, transferred, bred, or exhibited in violation of the Article upon obtaining a warrant from any judge or magistrate upon probable cause. Provides for temporary holding for animals that pose a direct threat to public safety or are suffering from apparent neglect or cruelty in the custody and control of certain institutions (institutions accredited or certified by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums [AZA], a wildlife sanctuary, duly incorporated nonprofit animal protection organization, veterinary hospital/clinic/practice, or institutions credited by the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care International; all exempted from the Article), or otherwise holding the animal in place. Sets procedures for a hearing within 14 days from the date of the seizure or impoundment, with five-days' written notice of the hearing. Deems the seized or impounded animal forfeited upon judicial determination of a violation of the Article, with the court ordering the violator to pay all reasonable expenses incurred in caring and providing for the animal from the time it was seized until forfeiture, to an institution accredited or certified by AZA, wildlife sanctuary, duly incorporated nonprofit animal protection organization, veterinary hospital/clinic/practice, or institutions credited by the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care International. Provides for the transfer of a forfeited animal to an institution (institution accredited or certified by AZA, wildlife sanctuary, duly incorporated nonprofit animal protection organization, veterinary hospital/clinic/practice, or institutions credited by the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care International) willing and able to take custody.
Specifies that the Article does not prevent law enforcement from humanely euthanizing an animal if no institution is willing and able to provide long-term care for the animal. Specifies that the Article does not prevent voluntary, permanent relinquishment of an animal by its owner to a person legally able to possess the animal and willing and able to take possession. Clarifies that voluntary relinquishment does not affect criminal charges for violations of the Article. Authorizes law enforcement officers to humanely destroy any dangerous wild animal found to not properly be confined, whether on the property of the owner or running at large, in order to protect public safety. Makes owners liable for costs incurred by law enforcement in humanely destroying or otherwise securing an animal found not properly confined.
Makes each violation of the Article a Class 2 misdemeanor punishable by a fine not to exceed $5,000. Provides that each animal possessed, sold, transferred, or bred in violation of the Article is a separate offense. Makes any dangerous wild animal owner or custodian whose act or omission in care, control, or containment of that animal results in the animal running loose or causing property damage a Class A1 misdemeanor, with a resulting serious bodily injury to any person making the owner of the animal strictly liable for a Class I felony. Authorizes any person who lives in a county where a dangerous wild animal is kept to bring a civil action against the animal's owner or custodian to enjoin any violation of the Article.
Repeals GS 113-291.13, which provided that State wildlife laws did not apply to opossums between December 29 and January 2.
Provides a severability clause. Applies to offenses committed on or after December 1, 2021.