Changes in the county exotic animal ordinance approved by the Board of Commissioners on Monday may force a local herpetologist to remove a number of poisonous reptiles from a home in the King area.
“The City of King was recently made aware of a situation inside a populated area of the city where dangerous and venomous reptiles are being maintained by licensed individuals in a less than ideal environment,” said King Police Chief Paula May. “We were not informed of the situation until the past couple of weeks, although it has been in existence for several months. City officials met with and informed the county officials of the situation very shortly after being made aware of it.
“We are not disclosing the location of the animals at this point because we do not want to cause unnecessary panic or entice curious onlookers to put themselves in a situation where they would get hurt or where any of these venomous reptiles could be released,” said May on Tuesday. “We will be giving the owner five days to transport the animals to another location that meets the permitting requirements of the ordinance or is a place where it would not be illegal to have them.”
Chad Griffin, the owner of CCSB Reptile Rescue and Rehab Center, confirmed Tuesday that he had a number of exotic animals stored in the King area as part of his rehabilitation efforts.
“I am professional herpetologist,” he said. “We have moved some certain animals to a property we deal with up in that area. We are looking at trying to open up a visiting reptile zoo as a tourist location.”
He said the facility the animals were housed in in King had been inspected by state wildlife officials.
“We had a place there that fell under the county criteria,” he said. “Everything is safe and secure. Everything we do is on a professional level. We take seizures from all over the United States.”
Griffin was in the news last fall after he was forced to remove exotic animals from a home in Winston-Salem after neighbors claimed an alligator found in the area had escaped from his facility.
According to the CCSB Reptile Rescue and Rehab Center website, Griffin and his family work to help resuce a variety of reptiles and amphibians.
“We are blessed to be able to work with and help many different agencies and organizations such as U.S. fish and game ( US fish and wildlife), North Carolina Wildlife Resource Commission (state fish and game), Forsyth County Emergency Management, N.C. department of agriculture, Department of the interior, F.E.M.A. on the animal level, several natural science centers, atleast 15 different animal controls throughout North Carolina, and many other rescue’s and rehab facilities and also many law enforcement agencies and fire departments to help them with reptile issues,” reads the site. “We have a few different species of turtles , snakes , lizards, tortoises, and crocodilian that we have as pets and we enjoy working with these animals. In addition to the care these animals get we also do not allow any breeding of any form by the animals while at our sanctuary. We offer removal from homes and ponds of turtles and snakes but we also take in unwanted reptiles.”
May said police had visited the location where some exotic animals are now being kept in the King area to confirm that there were a number of venomous snakes and reptiles, as well as one crocodile and multiple alligators at the facility.
She said the animals were enclosed with in buildings and not visible form the outside of the house, noting that there was no signage indicating the animals may be in any of the structures.
“There were some safety concerns about the location,” said May. “And, certainly, the possibility of them escaping is a concern to us for the public. We have expressed our concerns to state wildlife officials who do the permitting.”
She said a main safety concern was the lack of availability of anti-venom for some of the venomous animals at the location.
“As I understand it the anti-venom for some of the reptiles can only be found in the country of origin,” she said. “For instance there may be a venomous snake from West Africa and the anti-venom would be in West Africa. We don’t believe there is any anti-venom for some of the reptiles there that is any closer than Florida or maybe Kentucky. Getting the anti-venom to a person who needs it immediately is a major concern.
“To my knowledge he does not have any anti-venom on site and neither do any of the ambulances,” she added. “We were concerned initially because if we had an emergency for the responders to go there, whether it be fire or EMS or law enforcement to walk into this and not know how to deal with it.”
May said concerns for public safety prompted city officials to review relevant city and county ordinances, state statutes, and other applicable state and federal laws and regulations.
“As Stokes County provides animal control services to the entire county, including within the City of King, city officials have been working closely with county leaders to ensure the county’s ordinance adequately addresses animals such as these and other exotic animal varieties,” she said. “Our primary concern is to ensure that such reptiles and other exotic animals are maintained in a healthy, safe and secure location with appropriate signage, antivenin information, and in such a way that public health and safety is not threatened or jeopardized.”
On Monday county commissioners took action on the issue, amending the county exotic animal ordinances, which also govern King, to establish regulations for animal rehabilitation facilities.
Under the new guidelines, such facilities must be located on a parcel of land with at least 100 acres and all structures, boundary fences, perimeter fences and animal enclosures must be located at least 500 feet or more from the property line.
The ordinance also requires such facilities maintain a minimum $1,000,000 per claim insurance policy and prohibits the rehabilitation of any wildlife not native to Stokes County. Under the ordinance, rehabilitators must also pay $1,000 per year for a county permit.
The ordinance also establishes guidelines for zoos, carnivals, circuses, and veterinary clinics.
Any individual not meeting the requirements of the ordinance would have five days to remove animals from the county, although the ordinance permits immediate seizure of animals if they pose an imminent threat or danger to the general public.
Contacted Tuesday, Griffin said he was unaware of the ordinance, but would look at it and try to make sure he was in compliance with it.
“As far as I knew we were under the law there,” he said.
May said there are guidelines for transporting the animals and noted that Griffin was accustomed to moving the animals because he uses them in exhibits and for educational purposes.
“The animals are valuable so we anticipate that he would want to move them safely and not allow them to be seized,” May added. “We will continue to work closely with county officials, as well as state officials and wildlife and reptile experts to determine the best course of action. It is important for the public to understand that we are working as quickly and diligently as possible on this matter. If there are any questions or concerns, please refer them to local law enforcement or Stokes County Animal Control.”
Nicholas Elmes may be reached at 336-591-8191 or on Twitter @NicholasElmes.