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German state plans dangerous-pet law after cobra escape

September 7, 2019

The escape of a pet cobra last month has left authorities in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia scrambling for a new law on the private ownership of dangerous animals. A previous draft bill was deemed too bureaucratic.

a cobra
Image: Reuters/S. Z. Tun

The German state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) is planning a new ban on the private ownership of poisonous snakes and other dangerous animals after a cobra was loose for five days in the small town of Herne.

State Environment Ministry spokesman Christian Fronczak told the dpa news agency on Saturday that a draft law was currently being drawn up and would be presented to other ministries for approval very soon, though he couldn't say exactly when.

He added that the ministry was currently deciding which animals should be considered dangerous enough to be regulated as pets, and whether people who currently owned such animals should be legally obliged to disclose them.

Kobra in Herne
It took five days for authorities to track down the reptileImage: picture-alliance/dpa/M. Kusch

The plan for the new law chimed in with a tweet posted by NRW Environment Minister Ursula Heinen-Esser in late August, when she wrote: "My opinion: Poisonous snakes, poisonous spiders, crocodiles etc should not be kept in apartments or houses. Possible exception: The owner can prove his suitability. Why? 1. They are extremely dangerous and 2. Because such ownership may not be suitable for the animal."

High public costs

The sudden urgency on the part of the state government came after a highly venomous monocled cobra escaped from a home in Herne, a town situated in the Ruhr area, and forced police to evacuate four buildings until it was caught. Some 30 people had to leave their homes, according to local news outlets.

City officials believe the 1.4-meter (4.6-foot) reptile likely escaped from an apartment where the authorities discovered 22 more venomous snakes, which were confiscated. The resident denies that the snake came from his collection.

Fronczak told dpa that the ministry was also considering whether the owners of such animals should be obliged to have an insurance policy to cover damages if an animal escapes. "The recent case in Herne showed that, otherwise, the public has to foot the bill for the potentially high costs of guaranteeing safety, the search for and the capture of the animal," he said.

The state previously attempted to introduce a dangerous animals law in 2014, but was thwarted by local authorities, who deemed the draft too bureaucratic to implement. The ministry said it would not make the same mistake again, and promised to consult with municipalities.

Ten animal rights organizations also sent an open letter to the ministry on Friday, calling for a law to regulate the keeping of dangerous animals.

In most German states, there is no specific ban on keeping dangerous animals, though animal protection laws require that pets be kept humanely according to their species.

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Benjamin Knight Kommentarbild PROVISORISCH
Ben Knight Ben Knight is a journalist in Berlin who mainly writes about German politics.@BenWernerKnight