History Preacher George Went Hensley (1880-1955), left the Church of God in Cleveland, Tennessee after the Church set specific rules that it would have no part of his handling of snakes. Preacher Hensley went on to create a church dedicated to snake handling and sister churches arose throughout the Appalachian region and the Midwest. Several people have been bitten, some fatally participating in this practice. In 1948 the Zion Tabernacle in Durham, NC hosted a three-day snake handling "convention" where several people were arrested for violation of Durham’s city ordinance prohibiting this practice. The practice of the handling of snakes was brought before the NC Supreme Court with the argument the ordinance prohibition violated the constitutional right to freedom of religion. The Supreme Court did not rule in the favor of the handling of snakes. Snake handling was made a felony punishable by death under Georgia law in 1941, following the death of a seven-year-old girl from a rattlesnake bite in a snake handling incident. However, the severity of the punishment was such that juries would never convict and the law was repealed in 1968.
In 1949 North Carolina declared snake handling a public nuisance and enacted 7 statutes prohibiting the handling of venomous reptiles, with exceptions; later adding 2 regulatory statues defining transport and emergency criteria and added constrictors and crocodiles. The statutes are self explanatory but in brief: Owning or possessing these animals is not in technical violation of state law, however, the statutes define the housing, transportation and identification of these animals along with a safety protocol and procedures for first aid. In every case, should an escape occur, local law enforcement is to be notified. Should you be aware of an escape occur in your jurisdiction, you are directed to immediately investigate and if you have reason to believe the report is valid, contact the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences or the North Carolina Zoological Park. The animal must be seized by a sworn officer and the animal delivered to the North Carolina State Museum of Natural Sciences. The Museum will examine the animal and decide its’ confinement. If the animal is one of the species stated in the law, the person is arrested and the court decides the fate of the animal. If the animal is venomous and antivenin is not available or it is not an endangered species the Museum will euthanize the animal.
In the Powers and Authorities section we learned counties and cities are authorized to enact ordinances regarding animals dangerous to persons or property. Again, there is a broad diversity of language from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.
§153A-131. Possession or harboring of dangerous animals. §160A-187. Possession or harboring of dangerous animals.
Many jurisdictions have enacted ordinances, or inserted sections to address the ownership of reptiles and other species classified as “exotic” animals and animals “determined to be dangerous”.
Exotic animals refer to animals that are not indigenous to North Carolina or they may be further defined within an ordinance. Some ordinances prohibit private possession of exotic animals as "pets”, while others are more specific.
Indigenoeus animals are generally defined as animals native to North Carolina. North Carolina’s indigenous animals are regulated by the Wildlife Resources Commission.
Cabarrus County – No person may possess an inherently dangerous exotic mammal or reptile. An inherently dangerous exotic mammal or reptile is any member of the canidae, felidae or ursidae family, including hybrids thereof, and any member of the reptilia family.
Wilkes County – Prohibits private possession of inherently dangerous exotic animals as "pets." "Inherently dangerous exotic animals" includes but is not limited to tigers, lions, servals, ocelots, giraffes, hippos, wolves, jackals, bears, weasels, coatis, hyenas, civets, wallabies, nonhuman primates, prairie dogs, alligators, venomous reptiles, kangaroos and more... It is to your benefit to learn about other reptiles and indigenous species in NC.