While the state of North Carolina does not prohibit the possession of great apes, the law does allow cities and counties to regulate possession of dangerous animals by law. However, great apes are not specifically identified or addressed in these laws (NC ST §§ 153A-131 and 160A-187). North Carolina also indirectly regulates the possession of great apes by reference to the federal endangered species list. In addition, the state declares the unlawful sale, possession for sale, or buying of any wildlife a Class 2 misdemeanor (NC ST § 113-294).
Like other states, North Carolina does not define great apes as “endangered,” either under its own endangered species law (NC ST §§ 113-331 – 113-350) or accompanying regulations (NC Admin Code § 10I.0102). Instead, it covers great apes by reference to federal law. North Carolina prohibits any taking, possession, transport, sale, and giving away of federal protected endangered or threatened species except for certain commercial uses.
Great apes are also covered under the state’s anti-cruelty law (NC ST §§ 14-360 – 14-363.2). Still, the law contains a number of exempt categories, including biomedical research or training, activities conducted for lawful veterinary purposes, or the destruction of any animal to protect the public, other animals, property, or the public health.
II. How Different Uses of Great Apes are Affected by Law
North Carolina law does not prohibit possession of great apes but does not allow commercial activity with any wildlife including apes. Different activities are addressed by various state laws. The law regulates the possession of great apes depending on whether a person possesses an ape privately (e.g., as a “pet”), at a zoo, as a sanctuary, or for scientific research purposes. This section examines the laws by those uses.
A. Private Possession of Great Apes
While North Carolina law makes it a Class 2 misdemeanor to unlawfully sell, possess for sale, or buy any wildlife (NC ST § 113-294), state law does not prohibit ownership or require a permit for possession of great apes. Even so, two state statutes state that a county or city may by ordinance regulate, restrict, or prohibit the possession or harboring of animals that are dangerous to persons or property (NC ST §§ 153A-131 and 160A-187). It would then be up to the municipality to determine whether an ape is dangerous under its code.
B. Possession by Zoological Display
North Carolina’s administrative code allows zoos to acquire and dispose of animals by “any method” (NC Admin Code § 22C.0004). In addition, publicly financed zoos are exempt from the Commission’s standards of caging and care for wild animals held in captivity (NC Admin Code § 10H0302). The North Carolina Zoological Park is also specifically excluded from the provisions of the state’s endangered species act (NC ST § 113-332).
While state law or regulation does not use the term “sanctuary,” it appears that possession here is governed by section 113-272.5, which governs captivity licenses in North Carolina. The Wildlife Resources Commission may license qualified individuals to hold wild animals “that are crippled, tame, or otherwise unfit for immediate release into their natural habitat.” While the language of this law suggests it only applies to native species, the section’s reference to the term “wildlife” is broad enough to cover great apes. Chapter 13 provides a definition of the term “wildlife” that includes “wild animals,” which is further defined to include “all… wild mammals” (NC ST § 113-129).
This section only contemplates temporary housing of wildlife, as captivity licenses may only be issued for up to one year. The law does not specify standards of care for wildlife, but it does authorize the Wildlife Resources Commission to require standards of caging and care. The Commission may also require reports to and supervision by Commission employees to insure humane treatment of the animal. Pursuant to this authority, the Commission has adopted regulations addressing the enclosure and care requirements for wild animals (NC Admin Code § 10H.0302). For more on these standards, see section III(A)(3) below.
D. Scientific Testing and Research Facilities
Section 113-261 allows the Department, the Wildlife Resources Commission, and agencies of the United States with jurisdiction over fish and wildlife to take wildlife resources within the state for “scientific investigations.” These activities need not comply with licensing and permit requirements under this section. Like zoos, scientific and biological research facilities are also exempt from the Commission’s standards of caging and care for wild animals (NC Admin Code § 10H0302). The state’s anti-cruelty law also exempts scientific research from its provisions.
While Great Apes are not normally used in chemical testing, in a few states they are still part of scientific research that would be exempt under state anti-cruelty laws.
III. State Laws Affecting Great Apes in North Carolina
North Carolina addresses the use and possession of great apes through several avenues in its laws. While state law does not prohibit possession of great apes, the state has two dangerous animal laws that allow cities and counties to adopt ordinances that regulate, restrict, or prohibit the possession or harboring of animals that are dangerous to persons or property (NC ST §§ 153A-131 and 160A-187). Also, while North Carolina does not specifically list great apes under state law as an endangered species, there is incorporation by reference to federal law. Finally, great apes are protected from intentional and malicious cruelty under the state’s anti-cruelty provision.
A. Importation, Introduction, and Transplantation of Wildlife Law
Although state law does not prohibit ownership or require a permit for possession of great apes, two North Carolina statutes provide that a city or county may by ordinance regulate, restrict, or prohibit the possession or harboring of animals that are dangerous to persons or property (NC ST §§ 153A-131 and 160A-187).
1. Which Great Apes are Covered?
These two North Carolina statutes refer generally to “animals that are dangerous to persons or property,” which could potentially apply to any wildlife, including great apes (NC ST §§ 153A-131 and 160A-187).
2. What is Prohibited?
Section 153A-131 states that a county may by ordinance regulate, restrict, or prohibit the possession or harboring of “animals that are dangerous to persons or property.” Section 160A-187 allows a city to do the same.
3. Standards for Keeping of Exotic Wildlife under the Law
Although this section does not deal with housing conditions, the Commission has adopted regulations addressing the caging and care requirements for wild animals held in captivity (NC Admin Code § 10H.0302). The enclosure must provide the animal protection from free ranging animals and from sun or weather that could cause stress to the animal. The animal’s enclosure must also include a den area in which the animal can escape from view and must be large enough to allow the animal to turn around and lie down. No tethers or chains can be used to restrain the animal, and the enclosure must include either an exercise device or a shelf to allow the animal to exercise and climb. Fresh food must be provided daily, and clean water must be available to the animal at all times. Finally, the regulation provides that all enclosures must be constructed pursuant to certain spatial specifications.
These housing requirements do not apply to publicly financed zoos, scientific and biological research facilities, and institutions of higher education that were granted an exemption from the Commission prior to December 1, 2005.
This section does not deal with penalties. It is also unclear what the consequences to the wildlife will be after a violation of this section has occurred. It seems like wildlife kept in violation would be left to the determination of the city or county.
B. Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Wildlife Species of Special Concern (NC ST §§ 113-331 – 113-350)
As listed species on the federal list of endangered and threatened species, most great apes are protected under North Carolina’s Endangered Species Act. This act prohibits the taking, possession, transport, sale, and giving away of such species.
1. Which Great Apes are Covered?
Although the general thrust of North Carolina’s law is geared towards native species, all great apes are covered by reference to the federal endangered and threatened species lists (NC ST § 113-334). The law states that any animals listed on the federal endangered or threatened species lists that are native or resident to the state have the same protections as animals on the North Carolina protected animals list.
2. What is Prohibited?
Under section 113-337, “it is unlawful to take, possess, transport, sell, barter, trade, exchange, export, or offer for sale, barter, trade, exchange or export, or give away for any purpose including advertising or other promotional purpose any animal on a protected wild animal list.”
The act excludes the North Carolina Zoological Park from any of the provisions of this section (NC ST § 113-332). This section also authorizes the Wildlife Resources Commission to promulgate regulations that would allow for exceptions to the prohibited acts (NC ST § 113-337(1)). Pursuant to this authority, the Commission’s regulations state that it may issue permits for the taking of endangered, threatened, or special concern species (NC Admin Code § 10I.0102). This exception is limited to scientific study or training, or to a person who lawfully possessed the animal for at least 90 days prior to being listed (NC Admin Code § 10I.0102(b)). The regulations also allow for the taking of an endangered, threatened, or special concern species without a permit in certain situations, such as protecting human life, aiding a sick animal, or disposing of a deceased animal (NC Admin Code § 10I.0102(c)).
3. Standards for Great Apes Kept under North Carolina’s Endangered Species Law
This section does not deal with housing conditions. However, the Commission has adopted regulations addressing the caging and care requirements for wild animals (NC Admin Code § 10H.0302). For more, see III(A)(3) above.
Violation of this section is a Class 1 misdemeanor, with punishment based on the person’s prior record (NC ST § 113-337(b)). It is unclear what the consequences to the wildlife will be after a violation of this section has occurred.
C. Cruelty to Animals (NC ST §§ 14-360 – 14-363.2)
North Carolina’s anti-cruelty law is generally applicable to great apes. The statute provides that a person commits the offense of cruelty to animals if he or she intentionally overdrives, overloads, wounds, injures, torments, kills, or deprives of necessary sustenance, or causes or procures to be overdriven, overloaded, wounded, injured, tormented, killed, or deprived of necessary sustenance, “any animal.” A person who violates this section is guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.
The anti-cruelty law also applies to any person who maliciously tortures, mutilates, maims, cruelly beats, disfigures, poisons, or kills, or cause or procures to be tortured, mutilated, maimed, cruelly beaten, disfigured, poisoned, or killed, “any animal.” A person also commits the offense of cruelty to animals if he or she maliciously kills, or causes or procures to be killed, “any animal” by intentional deprivation of necessary sustenance. Violations of these sections result in a Class H felony. Other prohibited acts include abandoning an animal and conveying any animal in a cruel manner.
Conviction of any offense under this section may result in confiscation of the animal, with the final determination of custody left to the court.
In addition to the criminal remedies available, this section also includes civil remedy provisions (NC ST §§ 19A-1 – 19A-9). The law allows the court to issue preliminary and permanent injunctions in cases of animal cruelty. If the court orders a permanent injunction, it may terminate the rights of the owner and transfer possession of the animal to a new owner. The court may also enjoin the violator from acquiring new animals or limit the number of animals he or she may own for a specified period of time.
There are several exceptions to North Carolina’s anti-cruelty statute that could possibly apply to great apes. The anti-cruelty law does not apply to biomedical research or training, activities conducted for lawful veterinary purposes, or the destruction of any animal to protect the public, other animals, property, or the public health.
North Carolina does not specifically address great apes in any of its laws. While state law does not prohibit the possession of great apes, two state statutes allow counties or cities to adopt ordinances regulating the possession of dangerous animals. However, state law clearly allows the use of apes and other wild animals in zoological displays. While regulations contain standards of caging and care for wild animals held in captivity, publicly financed zoos and research facilities are specifically exempt from these requirements. As is true with many states, there is not an overall law that directly addresses the possession of apes or the specific needs of apes in captivity.