AN ACT TO PROHIBIT THE OWNERSHIP, POSSESSION, IMPORT, PURCHASE, OR SALE OF BIG CATS, BEARS, AND GREAT APES IN CERTAIN SITUATIONS.
Enacts Article 7, Big Cats, Bears, and Great Apes, to GS Chapter 19A. Sets out definitions for animal control authority; circus; big cat, bear, or great ape; law enforcement officer; person; and wildlife sanctuary. Prohibits any person from importing into, possessing, keeping, purchasing, having custody or control of, breeding, or selling within the State, by any means, a big cat, bear, or great ape. Specifies that the prohibition includes Internet transactions. Provides for ten exemptions, including circuses and wildlife sanctuaries. Excludes persons who lawfully possessed a big cat, bear, or great ape prior to June 1, 2019, so long as the person complies with ten detailed requirements and restrictions, including maintaining specified records and annually registering with local animal control authority with the initial registration by September 1, 2019. 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 big cat, bear, or great ape 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 big cat, bear, or great ape 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 big cat, bear, or great ape 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 placed more restrictive restrictions or additional requirements on the possession, sale, transfer, or breeding of big cats, bears, or great apes. 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 (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 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. Provides for the transfer of a forfeited animal to an institution (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) 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 big cat, bear, or great ape 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 big cat, bear, or great ape 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 big cat, bear, or great ape is kept to bring a civil action against the animal's owner or custodian to enjoin any violation of the Article.
Applies to offenses committed on or after December 1, 2019.