Tuesday, November 28, 1995

NC Should Outlaw Dangerous Exotic Pets

Chapel Hill Herald
November 28, 1995, Tuesday

Tiger tale A Cary boy's needless injury should be all the proof that North Carolina needs to outlaw private ownership of dangerous wild animals.

There were two victims in last week's mauling of a Cary boy by his father's pet tiger.

A Thanksgiving outing turned into a horror when Mark Forsyth took his year-old Bengal tiger for a walk -- on a leash. The giant cat lunged for Forsyth's 3-year-old son, Tyler. Doctors said they wouldn't know for several days if the boy would suffer permanent eye damage. The fate of the tiger was more immediate. Forsyth got it back in its pen and shot it in the head. One report said the cat was still rolling around when authorities arrived and finished the job.

All sympathy goes out to the boy, but last week's incident must not be repeated. The 350-pound cat was doing what thousands of years of instinct told it to do -- to pounce on a small target. The father, in fact, had been warned not to keep the animal because no such animals can be safely quartered in residential areas.

North Carolina needs a statewide ban on people owning exotic animals. The county by county hodgepodge of rules, which often dictate cage size without prohibiting such activities, are insufficient to safeguard against the danger. Just this year we reported on the arrival of three abused tigers at the Carnivore Preservation Trust outside Pittsboro. We told how workers carefully loaded each carrying cage up to the larger enclosure the tigers were being moved to -- making sure the two matched up tight so the predators coudn't grab an errant arm or leg.

Unfortunately, we also reported, the Carnivore Preservation Trust may soon run out of room to keep all the tigers it is receiving. And it's not just the striped cats competing for space, but jaguars, smaller ocelots and others that someone once thought would make an interesting pet, but found out later were more than they could handle.

It's ironic that as their habitats shrink, the numbers of these animals in captivity appears to be increasing, and not just in the zoos and preserves. Regulations that might have seemed unnecessary when pet tigers, if one can call them that, were rare, are now out of date. Some estimates say as many as 50 tigers and other larger predators are being kept in North Carolina backyards, including here in the Triangle.

A small boy almost lost his life last week. A rare and beautiful animal paid for the incident with his. It's time North Carolina lawmakers took steps to make sure this never happens again.

LOAD-DATE: November 28, 1995