WAKE COUNTY, N.C. – A snake breeder said Raleigh's proposed dangerous animal ordinance could lead to an underground market.


What You Need To Know

The Raleigh City Council is considering banning a number of dangerous animals, including many venomous snakes

The draft ordinance is in response to June's zebra cobra incident

Neighbors said the zebra cobra could have bitten children out playing or adults taking a walk

Snake breeders say the ordinance is too broad and addresses a problem state law already handles


David Morley said his fascination with snakes began as a child when he would turn over rocks and logs in the woods, find snakes and bring them home.

He now keeps a number of snakes, mainly ball pythons, and sells some to customers as a side business. When news broke in June that a venomous zebra cobra had escaped from a North Raleigh home, Morley said his immediate reaction was twofold: frustration with the owner of the snake and fear of political blowback.

“Immediately, you're thinking, what is this going to do to me,” he said. “How are people going to look at the pets that I keep?”

Shortly after the snake was captured, Raleigh city council member David Knight, whose district includes the home from which the snake escaped, proposed a new ordinance regulating the kinds of animals one can keep within the city limits. In its current form, Knight's proposal would ban the ownership of a number of wild animals, including several species of big cats, non-human primates and “medically significant venomous snakes.”

Virgil Baracca said the ordinance makes sense to him. His home sits just a few doors down from the home of Chris Gifford, the man who owned the zebra cobra. On the last day before the snake was captured, Baracca said he had to be escorted to and from his car by a police officer. He said the neighborhood is home to many small children, and the situation could easily have led to tragedy.

The escape of this zebra cobra from a Raleigh home in June prompted city council members to propose banning the ownership of certain venomous snakes. (Photo from: Raleigh Police Dept.)

“There's people who take walks in the morning, take walks all day,” he said. “Especially with the mothers who take their kids over to the playground.”

Morley said the ordinance struck him as a potential case of over-legislation. North Carolina already has a state law that regulates the ownership of venomous or large constricting snakes. Gifford was cited for 40 misdemeanor violations of the law and agreed to a plea deal last month. Moreover, even though Morley lives in Holly Springs and not Raleigh, he fears other municipalities or the Wake County government might decide to follow Raleigh's lead. He said his biggest fear is the ban would drive the industry underground.

“If this were to transfer over to the non-venomous, you're going to take a whole class of person and animal keeper and potentially force that underground, and I think that's where the real danger is,” he said. “That's when you're going to hear about more escapes.”

Morley said a better idea would be for the state to impose a licensing system similar to that in Florida, where owners of venomous reptiles must undergo training and have a license.

The Raleigh City Council referred the ordinance back to committee at its August 17 meeting after several council members and Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin said they felt the language was too broad, particularly in a provision prohibiting the feeding of wild animals.