RALEIGH, N.C. — This past weekend’s Repticon event in Raleigh attracted large crowds to the N.C. State Fairgrounds.
"We’re very excited. We always love to come to Raleigh, North Carolina and put on a show for people," says Jimmy Burch, co-manager of Repticon.
The weekend event featured all the reptiles an enthusiast could ask for.
Burch says the event brought some sense of normalcy.
“It's nice to get out and about and see people smile for a change," Burch says.
But not everyone is smiling.
“Not only are they bad for animal welfare, but they also pose a zoonotic disease threat to the guests," says Ben Williamson, programs director for World Animal Protection.
Williamson says his organization has been investigating these types of events for years.
“We’ve seen things like children kissing, holding, touching the reptiles, which is exactly the type of behavior that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns shouldn’t happen," Williamson says.
The CDC says it doesn’t know the exact source of the current COVID-19 outbreak, but it does know it originally came from an animal, likely a bat.
“The pandemic is a wake-up call for us all to learn more about interactions with wild animals such as reptiles, the best thing we can do is to leave them alone in the wild," Williamson says.
We asked Burch to respond to the world animal protection’s stance that Repticon shouldn’t be happening at all, especially in the middle of a pandemic.
“I've got no comment on that. I don't want to get into that right now," Burch says.
Williamson, meanwhile, says he feels for venues like the State Fairgrounds eager to bring crowds back.
But he says events like Repticon are not the answer.
“Is this something we really want to align ourselves with? Is this something that's gonna be safe for our guests, and if the answer is 'no,' they shouldn’t be hosting Repticon," Williamson says.
The CDC recently linked an outbreak of salmonella back to a bearded dragon.
The wild animal was among many featured in last weekend’s Repticon event.