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New Criminal Law Guidelines Snake through North Carolina

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Norfolk, VAOwners of reptilian pets, including crocodiles, venomous snakes and boa constrictors, face new criminal law repercussions and potentially incarceration in the state of North Carolina should their pets ever escape containment and threaten to cause harm.

The reptile pet industry has become phenomenally popular among people looking for a unique and low-maintenance animal companion. A full-grown boa constrictor certainly makes for a one-of-a-kind conversation piece at parties (provided you can get people in the front door).

However, the ravenous global market for pet reptiles, which has fed a number of home-based breeding businesses in the US, has also triggered new legislation and criminal law guidelines in North Carolina.

"People that want to work with these type of animals are going to have to meet best industry management practices," said Andrew Wyatt of Coinjock, president of the United States Association of Reptile Keepers, who helped draft the state legislation sponsored by Sen. Ed Jones, D-Halifax. "They're going to have to step up to the plate to make sure that all the proper protocols are adhered to," Wyatt told the Associated Press (AP).

Private owners will now be required to store or transport venomous reptiles, large constricting snakes, and non-native crocodilians in escape-proof and bite-proof enclosures with a working lock. The enclosures must be labeled to include emergency contact information and what should happen if the reptile bites someone or escapes.

Wyatt says he is trying to prevent accidents from occurring in North Carolina like that which happened in Florida this summer, when a toddler was strangled to death by an 8-foot pet python belonging to her mother's boyfriend. The previous year, in Virginia Beach, a woman was strangled by her 13-foot-long tiger reticulated python. Investigators believe she was trying to give it medicine when the large snake wrapped itself around her neck.

In North Carolina, someone who intentionally or negligently handles pet reptiles in an unsafe manner could be charged with a misdemeanor. The owner faces up to 150 days in jail if someone besides a family member or employee is killed or suffers a life-threatening injury. The owner faces similar consequences if he or she releases a non-native reptile into the wild.

The minimum safety requirements for keeping dangerous reptiles are designed to update an abridged 60-year-old reptile law in North Carolina.

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