North Carolinians are among the few Americans still allowed to keep wild animals—including lions, tigers, bears and primates—as pets. And as one of only seven unregulated states, for-profit operations such as roadside zoos tend to flourish in North Carolina. That’s because the USDA allows individuals to charge visitors to photograph and feed baby animals up to twelve weeks old. But once they age out, such animals are often sold into the exotic animal trade.
This often leads to wild animals becoming pets—a typically unsafe and inhumane circumstance. That’s according to Bobbi Brink, founder of Lions, Tigers & Bears, a California-based exotic animal rescue nonprofit, and it’s why she made the cross-country trip last week to rescue four bears from a Pender County home. Each bear had started life in a North Carolina roadside zoo. Brink says these operations primarily profit from peddling baby animals.
" So the question is, where do they go? You know, what happens to them? Do they go as somebody’s pet, or do they kill them and put them down? Do they sell their body parts into the exotic animal trade? That’s what we’ve gotta figure out. Because the exotic animal trade is second to only drugs and weapons in our country—it’s an eighteen-billion-dollar-a-year industry."
On the federal level, Brink’s organization is currently lobbying to pass the recently introduced Big Cats and Public Safety Protection Act, and to tighten state restrictions.
***For more information about exotic animal rescue, visit the Lions, Tigers & Bears website.