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WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — Recent issues with exotic animals in Pender County have some residents worried about a potential new sanctuary that may be coming to the Cape Fear.

Scott Lope is an animal activist who started an organization based in Wilmington. The catch? We’re not talking about dogs and cats. We’re talking about lions and tigers and bears.

Lope says Wilmington is the perfect place for a new exotic animal sanctuary. The 2009 Animal Planet Hero of the Year says it’s his mission to help animals in need, and the climate, location and easy access to an airport make Wilmington the perfect place to set up shop, but New Hanover County has regulations about exotic animals in the county.

“A Board of Health regulation states that it’s unlawful to own any animal that belongs to the zoological order Carnivora besides a domestic dog and cat,” county spokesman Charles Smith said. “An exception to that would be any organization that was regulated and approved by the USDA.”

Lope has worked with other sanctuaries in the country, so he knows what it takes to get that type of facility up and running within the rules.

“I’m used to following the laws and regulations and permitting processes to the highest degree, so that hasn’t really been a consideration,” he said. “We’ll comply with any kind of regulation that we need to, and we’ll actually go way above and beyond especially with the safety requirements.”

Lope says the community has nothing to worry about when it comes to the sanctuary.

“It would be quite different than a private owner that has a private collection of his animals in makeshift cages in his backyard. That’s what we’re trying to prevent. These animals are not pets, and my biggest platform is that these animals are not pets,” Lope said.

Lope says right now the exotic animal sanctuary is in the beginning stages. He says Wilmington would not get the facility for a few years at least.

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