Owner beware: Your pet mongoose is not welcome here.
Exotic animal ownership requires not only a willingness to care for unusual animals, but an understanding of the laws that regulate wildlife in particular states.
Laws vary widely across the country, but all are designed with the intent to protect public health and safety from animals considered to be inherently dangerous.
Banned animals range from the more obvious—lions, tigers, bears, wolves—to the obscure, such as mongooses (prohibited in Alabama) and the raccoon dog (banned in both South Dakota and Kentucky). Some regulations appear nonsensical: In Colorado, you can own a bison, but not a hedgehog. Bummer.
Some states have exceptions or require owners to obtain permits for particular animals, while a handful of states have no specific requirements for owning wild animals as pets. Many states are clear about the penalties for illegally owning exotic pets, which can range from fees to criminal charges.
Because the regulation of exotic animals is left to states, some organizations, including The Humane Society of the United States, advocate for federal, standardized legislation that would ban owning large cats, bears, primates, and large poisonous snakes as pets.
Read on to see which pets are banned in your home state, as well as across the nation.
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- Banned pets: mongoose, jackrabbit, moose, deer, elk, fox
Alabama has a long list of banned species: the mongoose, jackrabbit, moose, deer, elk, fox, walking catfish, piranha, raccoons from outside of the state, wild rabbits or hare, coyote, skunk, and wild turkey, among others. Alabama also explicitly prohibits the release of any turkey (wild or tame) or nutria (a species of large, aquatic rodent). Residents cannot own any protected wild bird or animal, except with written permission from a designated employee of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
- Banned pets: bears, monkeys, wolves, and other live game animals
Alaska is one of many states that regulate exotic animal ownership through permits. Bears, monkeys, wolves, and live game animals are banned. Alaska will not issue permits for the “capture, possession, import, or export of any game animal” for use as a pet. But some animals can be owned as pets, like reindeer, llamas, and one-humped camels (dromedaries), as long as they aren’t released into the wild. Some species can be temporarily released for the purpose of hunting or falcon training.
- Banned pets: jaguars, non-domestic canines, non-domestic felines, alligators, crocodiles, cobras, vipers
Don’t bring your jaguar to Arizona—the species is banned in the state, though Arizona does allow residents to own certain wild animals as pets as long as they obtain special licenses and permits.
- Banned pets: lion, tiger, bear, six or more bobcats, rabbits, quail, ape, baboon, macaque
If you own six or more bobcats, you’re out of luck in Arkansas. That specific amount of bobcats is prohibited, as are any lions, tigers, bears, rabbits, quails, apes, baboons, and macaques. Under certain conditions, however, wolves are allowed. People can legally own large carnivores only if they had the animal on or before the date the regulation went into effect—and even then, they must meet other requirements, including securing an annual permit for personal possession.
- Banned pets: wolverine, bighorn sheep, falcon
Wolverine, bighorn sheep, and shrews are some of the more unusual animals banned in the Golden State. California law calls out specific wild species that “pose a threat to native wildlife, the agriculture interests of the state or to public health or safety.”
- Banned pets: general wildlife, wildebeest, raccoon, hedgehog, monk parakeet
Colorado law notes that there is “growing interest in the private possession of live wildlife” but also “considerable confusion over the laws regarding such private possession.” The state generally bans owning any species of wildlife native to Colorado, as well as exotic animals. There are some exceptions, however. You can own up to six live native reptiles or amphibians as pets, except for specifically banned species. Falcons, hawks, and eagles are allowed for falconry purposes.
- Banned pets: lion, leopard, bobcat, wolf, bear, chimpanzee
Connecticut considers the following animals to be dangerous and, as such, prohibited: the lion, leopard, cheetah, jaguar, ocelot, jaguarundi cat, puma, lynx, bobcat, wolf, coyote, and any species of bear. Those found in violation of the law face a fine of up to $100 for each offense.
- Banned pets: general wildlife, non-native poisonous snakes
Delaware residents cannot own wildlife not native to or generally found in Delaware without a special permit. Non-native poisonous snakes are also specifically banned. Those who break the law face a fine of up to $500 and/or a prison sentence up to 30 days.
- Banned pets: chimpanzees, tigers, lions, crocodiles, jaguars, leopards, venomous reptiles
In 2011, a Florida woman and her boyfriend were sentenced to 12 years in prison after their Burmese python escaped from its cage and strangled the woman’s 2-year-old daughter to death. Venomous reptiles, as well as crocodiles, chimpanzees, tigers, lions, jaguars, and leopards are banned in the state. Some wild animals are allowed via special permit.
- Banned pets: kangaroo, monkey, fox, wolf, crocodile, alligator, cobra
In Georgia, specific animals are banned unless the owner gets a wild animal license or permit, and even that option is limited to certain groups—like those in the wholesale or retail wild animal business, those exhibiting wild animals to the public, and those using the animals for scientific or educational purposes. Animals including kangaroos, monkeys, foxes, wolves, crocodiles, alligators, and cobras are considered “inherently dangerous” to humans under state law.
- Banned pets: lion, leopard, cheetah, wolf, coyote, black bear, grizzly bear, brown bear
Hawaii explicitly bans the “uncontrolled” introduction of exotic animals, which present “serious danger to the agricultural, horticultural, and aquacultural industries, natural resources, and environment of Hawaii.” The law allows for an ad hoc panel made up of at least three people with expertise in vertebrate biology to determine if an animal should be added to the banned list.
- Banned pets: big cats, all non-native canidae species, primates
Idaho law prohibits any non-native animal that is determined to be “dangerous to the environment, livestock, agriculture, or wildlife of the state.” People can only own exotic animals with special permits. “Deleterious” animals include deer, wolves, cheetahs, jaguars, lions, tigers, sheep, and the European hedgehog (American hedgehogs welcome!), among others.
- Banned pets: big cat species, wolves, jaguars, poisonous life-threatening reptiles
Illinois prohibits the ownership of designated “dangerous” animals with special exceptions for zoos, federally licensed exhibits, circuses, scientific or educational institutions, research laboratories, veterinary hospitals, or animal refuges. The following animals are considered dangerous under state law: lion, tiger, leopard, ocelot, jaguar, cheetah, margay, mountain lion, lynx, bobcat, jaguarundi, bear, hyena, wolf, coyote, and any poisonous or life-threatening reptile. Violations of this law can result in a misdemeanor charge.
- Banned pets: beaver, coyote, raccoon, skunk, wolf, venomous reptiles
Without permits, people in Indiana cannot own the following: foxes, raccoons, skunks, wolves, bears, wild cats, venomous reptiles, or crocodiles. The permits cost $10 each. If an “emergency exists"—i.e. the animal is in the position to harm another animal—that permit can be suspended.
- Banned pets: wolf, hyena, leopard, bear, primate, crocodile, cobra, python
A cautionary tale for exotic animal owners: Last summer in Iowa, a 2-year-old girl was attacked by a pet wolf, sustaining injuries to her arm and hand. The wolf was later euthanized. Other prohibited animals include hyenas, leopards, bears, primates, crocodiles, cobras, and pythons. Those who own legal exotic animals in Iowa are subject to annual registration fees; a pet elephant, for example, will set you back $500 each year.
- Banned pets: lion, tiger, leopard, jaguar, bear, non-native venomous snake
Kansas bans large cats, bears, and non-native venomous snakes. Legal exotic pets come with stringent requirements, including registration fees, inspections, insurance coverage, and a “written recovery plan” in the event that the animal escapes.
- Banned pets: tiger, lion, bear, alligator, honey badger, raccoon dog
In Kentucky, “inherently dangerous” exotic animals—including primates, tigers, lions, bears, alligators, and honey badgers—are prohibited, unless they were owned before July 13, 2005, when the law was enacted. Other banned animals include weavers, flying foxes, jackrabbits, and raccoon dogs.
- Banned pets: bear, wolf, tiger, lion, leopard, jaguar, primate, fox
In the state of Louisiana, certain “potentially dangerous” quadrupeds, big exotic cats, and non-human primates are considered to pose “significant hazards to public safety and health” and are deemed “detrimental to the welfare of the animals.” The law warns that the “size and strength of such animals in concert with their natural and unpredictable and/or predatory nature can result in severe injury or death when an attack upon a human occurs.” Bears, wolves, non-human primates, and large exotic cats are not allowed—but with a permit, you can own a wolf/dog hybrid or venomous snake.
- Banned pets: bear, moose, wild turkey, deer, lion, cheetah, wolf, monkey, camel, alligator, monk parakeet, mute swan
In Maine, a permit is required to own most wild birds or animals. Several species are not allowed, however: bear, moose, wild turkey, deer, lion, cheetah, wolf, monkey, camel, alligator, monk parakeet, and swan. But the emu, domestic ferret, sugar glider, and chinchilla are allowed without a permit.
- Banned pets: fox, bear, alligator, tiger, leopard, wolf, monkey, certain venomous snakes, skunk
Maryland prohibits the ownership of foxes, bears, alligators, tigers, leopards, wolves, monkeys, certain venomous snakes, and skunks. Consequences for violating the law are more severe here, where it’s considered a misdemeanor; if convicted, you are subject to up to $1,000 in fines.
- Banned pets: non-domesticated, non-hybrid wild animals unless specifically exempted
In Massachusetts, state law warns that wild animals, “regardless of whether or not they are born in captivity, often revert to their wild nature when sexually mature and can do considerable harm to persons.” There are five classes of special licenses available to own exotic animals.
- Banned pets: tiger, leopard, cheetah, lion, cougar, bear, wolf-hybrid (exceptions apply)
Michigan devotes several provisions to the regulation of wolf-dogs in memory of Angie Nickerson, a 5-year-old who was killed by the animal in 1989. Her mother advocated for the passage of legislation to prevent future deaths by wolf-dogs and other potentially dangerous animals.
- Banned pets: "regulated animals" including bear, tiger, cheetah, leopard, monkey, lemur (exceptions apply)
Minnesota has a designated list of “regulated animals” that are not allowed, including lions, tigers, cougars, leopards, cheetahs, ocelots, servals, bears, and non-human primates. Those who qualify for exemption to own a regulated animal must have registered the animal by March 2, 2005. A person who knowingly violates this law in Minnesota can be charged with a misdemeanor; if an animal causes bodily harm, the owner can also face a prison sentence of up to 90 days and/or a fine of up to $1,000.
- Banned pets: orangutans, macaques, mandrills, baboons, hyenas, elephants
Mississippi residents must obtain permits to own certain exotic animals considered dangerous. Before the permit is issued, the applicant must provide proof of liability insurance—$100,000 for each wild animal, up to a maximum of $1 million. Public zoos, university research facilities, governmental agencies, transient circuses, and rehabilitation or sanctuary facilities may be exempted from the permit, if the exemption is approved by a commission.
- Banned pets: unregistered dangerous wild animals including ocelot, leopard, monkey, tiger, bear, wolf
In Missouri, owners of “dangerous” wild animals—including lions, wolves, or poisonous reptiles—must register their pets with their local law enforcement agency. Those who break the law face a misdemeanor charge.
- Banned pets: ape, bat, gibbon, raccoon, skunk, alligator; more than one large bear or large cat without permit
In Montana, keeping more than one bear, large cat, or a hybrid of a wild animal is banned without a permit. Permit and health certificates are required to bring certain animals into the state.
- Banned Pets: bear, tiger, leopard, wolf, skunk
Special permits are required for exotic animal ownership in Nebraska, but some animals are still not allowed no matter what—namely, bears, tigers, leopards, wolves, and skunks.
- Banned pets: alligator, crocodile, bat, coyote, fox, raccoon, moose
Pet crocodiles are banned in Nevada, but if you own an elephant, you’re within state law. Explicitly prohibited animals include alligators, bats, coyotes, foxes, raccoons, and moose.
- Banned pets: bear, tiger, leopard, monkey, ape, wolf, poisonous reptile, monkey
Like many other states, New Hampshire bans bears, tigers, leopards, monkeys, apes, wolves, poisonous reptiles, and monkeys. Permits are required for some but not all species—if you own a chinchilla, ferret, llama, sugar glider, camel, or bison, you’re in the clear.
- Banned pets: monkey, bear, tiger, leopard, crocodile, viper, cobra, alligator, prairie dog
Unusual animals banned in New Jersey include vipers, ring-necked parakeets, and gila monsters (a species of venomous lizard native to the southwestern United States). Owners of these and other prohibited “potentially dangerous” animals must have “extensive experience in maintaining” the animal, submit a written statement of purpose for ownership, and meet other requirements in order to obtain a permit.
- Banned pets: crocodile, monkey, alligator, wolf, skunk, tiger, leopard, bear
Commonly banned wildlife are prohibited in New Mexico, such as wolves, tigers, and bears. The state requires permits to import or own non-domestic animals.
- Banned pets: "wild animals" including tiger, leopard, monkey, cheetah, bear, crocodile
If you’re interested in a marsupial or other exotic mammal, New York may be your place. The sugar glider, wallaby, kangaroo, capybara, and porcupine are allowed sans permit in the state. But you’ll need a permit for certain other wild animals, including wolves, coyotes, foxes, skunks, and raccoons.
- Banned pets: possession of dangerous animals regulated by cities and counties
In North Carolina, counties and cities can, by ordinance, regulate, restrict, or prohibit the possession of dangerous animals. Unique bans in the state include the ringtail, a mammal of the raccoon family, and the marten, a small carnivorous mammal that’s a member of the Mustelidae family. Permits to own these and other banned animals are only given to research institutes, public displays, or organized entertainment such as zoos or circuses.
- Banned pets: skunk, raccoon, venomous reptile
In North Dakota, licenses are required for animals that are “indistinguishable from wild, indigenous species or present a health risk to wild and domestic species” and those that are considered inherently or environmentally dangerous. A “nontraditional livestock advisory council” reviews special license applications.
- Banned pets: lion, tiger, bear, elephant, alligator, monkey, serval
The state of Ohio considers hippopotami, Komodo dragons, and howler monkeys, among other animals, dangerous. Snakes that are 12 feet or longer are also prohibited. Permits are required for certain situations, including exempted dangerous animals.
- Banned pets: illegal to own wildlife without license (law doesn’t cite specific animals)
Any unlicensed wildlife is off the table in Oklahoma. Permits are available for $48. If convicted of breaking this law, you face a fine of no less than $100 and the revocation of your wildlife license, if you have one.
- Banned pets: wildcat, primate, any canine not indigenous to Oregon
Oregon residents must obtain a permit from the State Department of Agriculture to own exotic animals—although exemptions are in place for certain situations. People with disabilities who rely on service monkeys, for instance, would be granted an exemption. But in 2011, the Associated Press reported that the state would not issue any new permits until the existing population of exotic pets thins out over the course of time.
- Banned pets: tiger, lion, monkey, crocodile, leopard
Those who want to have exotic animals as pets in Pennsylvania must get a permit from the state wildlife commission. It is illegal to “fail to exercise due care in safeguarding the public from attack by exotic wildlife,” and anyone who violates that law is subject to penalties including fines.
- Banned pets: permit required for primates, carnivores, amphibia, reptilia, canidae, and insecta
To protect the people of Rhode Island from physical harm and disease, a permit is required to own wild animals. If a legally owned wild animal poses a threat to public safety in some way, law enforcement can confiscate it.
- Banned pets: coyote, wolf, tiger, lion, non-native bear, great ape
Until this year, South Carolina was one of five states across the country with no restrictions on owning wild animals. On Jan. 1, 2018, a new law made it illegal to own large cats, apes, or non-native bears. Wolves, coyotes, peccaries (certain species related to pigs), bison, mountain goats, mountain sheep, bears, turkeys, and furbearers are also banned.
- Banned pets: non-domestic pig, raccoon dog
Non-domestic pigs and raccoon dogs are specifically prohibited in South Dakota. Permits are necessary to own any kind of non-domestic mammals. All animals are subject to a veterinarian exam and must be free of any contagious, infectious, epidemic, or communicable disease.
- Banned pets: baboon, wolf, bear, lion, tiger, elephant, rhinoceros
In Tennessee, five different classes of animals come with different requirements. Native species can only be possessed by zoos and temporary exhibitors, while residents can own animals such as rabbits, chinchillas, and llamas without a permit.
- Banned pets: lion, tiger, ocelot, cougar, leopard, cheetah, jaguar, chimpanzee, orangutan
Texas requires a certificate of registration to own what it considers dangerous wild animals. If an animal attacks a human, the owner must notify the registration agency within 48 hours—and if it escapes, immediately.
- Banned pets: cheetah, monkey, ape, gorilla, kangaroo, lemur
Utah residents are required to obtain a registration certificate to own certain “controlled” species, while other animals are specifically prohibited. If you’re a reptile enthusiast, you should know that it’s legal to own a desert night lizard with a permit, but the Glen Canyon chuckwalla (a relative of the iguana) is banned.
- Banned pets: bear, lion, tiger, wolf, gorilla, monkey
Permits are required in Vermont to own restricted wild animals. However, unrestricted animals include llamas, bison, ostriches, and alligators, among others.
- Banned pets: bear, wolf, coyote, weasel, badger, hyena
In Virginia, it’s illegal to own non-native exotic animals that are considered predatory or undesirable as a pet. According to the state, non-native exotic animals include, but are not limited to: bears, wolves, coyotes, weasels, badgers, hyenas, all species of non-domesticated cats, alligators, and crocodiles.
- Banned pets: crocodile, elephant, lion, tiger, cheetah, hyena
Washington bans many of the usual suspects: bears, certain types of snakes, and the like. People who owned banned animals before the law took effect were allowed to keep their animals until they pass.
- Banned pets: lion, tiger, bear, elephant, gray wolf, cheetah, alligator, crocodile, hyena
West Virginia’s exotic animals law aims to protect not only humans and domesticated animals from potential harm, but also to prevent the “mistreatment” of wild animals themselves. People can apply for permits to own animals considered potentially dangerous; those who break the law face a misdemeanor charge and a fee of up to $2,000 for each prohibited animal.
- Banned pets: cougar, black bear, raccoon, bobcat
It’s illegal to own a wild animal in Wisconsin without a license, with some exemptions. Permits are not required to own chipmunks, rats, squirrels, weasels, and pocket gophers, among other species.
- Banned pets: big game animals, trophy game, wolf, wolf hybrids
Big-game and trophy animals are banned in Wyoming. Antelope, bighorn sheep, deer, elk, moose, and mountain goats are categorized as big-game animals; trophy animals include black bears, grizzly bears, and mountain lions. Permits are required for some wildlife.