Greensboro, NC -- North Carolina is one of just six states that leave exotic pet laws to each individual county. In the Triad, there are just two counties where these rare and unusual animals like tigers and monkeys are allowed: Alamance and Caswell.
In Alamance County Cherri Foster bought a cute, cuddly exotic serval cub named Akai.
"I had no idea what I was getting into, I just knew I fell in love with her and she was going home with me," she said.
A year later Cherri was giving the African wild cat a raw rib eye instead of a birthday cake. At two, Akai's sleeping in the bed through the night, but is almost bigger than the play pool present for that year. By age six, Cherri brought Akai here to the Conservator's Center. She realized a house was no home for a wild cat.
Mindy Stinner runs the Conservators Center. She says they've had calls from owners all over North Carolina looking to adopt all kinds of pets - everything from servals and tigers to monkeys and hedgehogs. They are all animals that are extremely difficult to care for.
"Any exotic animal is going to have special needs as far as its care, its diet, its maintenance. Its veterinary visits," Stinner said.
While those owners did the right thing reaching out for help, others may be tempted to just let the animals go free. But that could land someone in jail for up to 10 years.
"If I were to open a cage here and release an animal, I would be endangering the public and that would certainly be a charge that could come back on me," Stinner said.
No one knows exactly how many exotic pets are in North Carolina. Without a state law, it's not tracked statewide. By best guess, experts like Mindy say fewer than 20 big cats and thousands of reptiles.
Locally the tracking is just as poor. In Caswell County - you're not required to register your pet. In Alamance you do have to register, but no one can tell us which agency takes those names. We've been asking questions, but can't get clear answers. So we'll keep on it and let you know what we find.