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This is What Exotic Pet Laws Should Be Like

Melissa cares for a variety of exotic animals and has completed a certificate in veterinary assisting and a bachelor's degree in biology.

See below for attribution

See below for attribution

Exotic pet bans are unfair, unnecessary, and are often enforced by towns, states, and cities due to ignorant hysteria about anything people find abnormal.

It almost never fails—most animal control officials will automatically parrot that they do not recommend exotic pets to any inquiring mind about the legality of a particular species, which is often an animal that this official has never heard of, but regardless, they are going to tell you why you shouldn’t have it in an authoritative voice. Their explanations might make the pet owner to-be feel as though they are asking to import ebola-ridden monkeys into the state for release to free-roam amongst preschool playgrounds.

While the country is in the midst of embracing previously illicit psychoactive drugs and successfully overturning unfair breed specific legislation in many areas, exotic pet owners remain predominantly hated by animal welfare/rights groups, government officials, and much of the general public whom are fed many unashamedly blatant lies by the Humane Society of the United States and popular animal sanctuaries like Big Cat Rescue.

Despite overflowing animal shelters, rarely do people actually want to ban the breeding of cats, and other commonly displaced pets. Instead, adoption is encouraged. It is not a perfect solution, but hopefully, after much awareness has been raised, it will place a dent on the prevalent euthanasia of adoptable pets.

Nor do people request bans on pets when horrific situations of abuse and cruelty are discovered.

How pet laws would be if they were shaped by critical thinking

Many officials are likely intimidated by the flourishing diversity of animals that can be kept as pets in the United States, and it isn’t too difficult to convince them to eliminate this industry, particularly when it isn’t linked to a profitable business (circuses, roadside zoos, ect.).

When it comes to the private hobbyist that simply wants to keep an animal for personal enjoyment, law makers seem to care a lot less about taking the time to design reasonable regulations to protect the public from this (extremely small) threat, protect the welfare of the animal, and discourage the keeping of extremely high maintenance animals from unequipped individuals while preserving the liberty of pet ownership.

Officials no longer need to be confused about how to group all pet species, as I can educate with a logical and factual approach on what laws and regulations can feasibly be enforced toward the myriad of species without resorting to bans on any animals.

Remember that

  • All mammals must be obtained from licensed breeders that screen for the appropriate zoonotic diseases.
  • Some of these recommendations are subject to change based on changing knowledge or expert testimony.
  • This is a list addressing public safety and welfare, NOT ecological impact (invasiveness), ethics regarding illegal smuggling or captures from the wild, and endangered species status. These matters should be regulated by other laws.

Class I wildlife (‘dangerous’ species)

My dangerous animal rule: Any animal possessing the capability to instantly cause a fatality or life-threatening injury to an average-sized, conscious, healthy adult human should be regulated in some way, with the exception of some livestock animals that have little or no associated fatalities, all reptiles (excluding listed venomous snakes) and deadly arthropods. Some animals, despite having a lethal capability, can be maintained with common sense and the risk is low.

For animals on this list, it is urgent that they be re-captured upon their escape and they pose a significant risk to their owners, making training and experience mandatory.

Such animals shall be considered Class I Wildlife and will require a Class I permit. They include but are not limited to:

All ‘bulky’ big cats (lions, tigers, leopards, cougars, jaguars—this does not include cheetahs, lynxes, and other medium-sized cats), all bears (ursidae), all elapid snakes (including defanged), all snakes in the Viperidae and Colubridae family with a bite that can cause a fatality in under 24 hours (except individuals with bee venom allergies), all non-human great apes (gorillas, bonobos, chimpanzees, and orangutans (this does not include lesser apes). All elephants (Proboscidea).

More than two of the following canid species (or high content hybrids of): African hunting dog (Lycaon pictus), grey wolf (Canis lupus) and all its subspecies except the domesticated dog (Canis lupus familiaris)

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Hyaenidae: Only the Spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta)

Dangerous ungulates: Cape buffalo (Syncerus caffer), hippopotamus (Hippopotamidae), Rhinoceros (Rhinocerotidae)

Explanation of this grouping: All large animals are capable of causing instant fatalities with adult humans, including ‘domesticated’ animals like horses and cows, so I’ve exempted ‘livestock’ or ranch animals that are not inclined to attack humans and/or are managed under traditional ranching methods. These are ungulates such as deer, watusi, water buffalo, wild pig, bison, alpaca, camel, wild goat, peccary, antelope, zebra and birds such as ostrich and emu (cetaceans, rhinoceros, and hippos are not in private ownership to my knowledge). I find that wild canids are nowhere near as dangerous as the described big cats—being of more concern in large groups and possessing a natural shyness—therefore my list distinguishes between those owning single wolves or wolfdogs and a large group of them.

Wild felines are not made equal when it comes to danger. It is typical for people to think that any wild cat is as dangerous as a tiger and wants to eat humans. The reality is that most medium-sized wild cats mostly prey on small animals and prefer to avoid humans at all costs. There are only dangers of injury to owners who must wrangle their pets.

Regulations for Class 1 Wildlife

For the animals on this list, all should have minimum cage requirements, annual inspections, and the owner should have direct experience with the species being requested or related species (degrees in the animal sciences are not so important, unless they involve direct animal care responsibilities).

Minimum caging requirements do two things: Since such animals are dangerous and are likely to be permanently caged, it will establish a standard for the housing of these animals that will promote reasonable welfare in captivity, and it will ‘test the commitment’ of the owner, filtering out the non-serious impulse buyers that plan to keep such animals in inexpensive or inappropriate accommodations. None of the listed animals should be housed in any multi-unit dwellings.

Minimum cage sizes should allow the animal to fulfill its full species specific behavioral repertoire, i.e. all great apes should have climbing access and all animals must be able to run at top speeds for at least 5-10 seconds. Great apes should require zoological grade housing, inspected annually.

None of my sizes are set in stone by any means, they are my approximate guess at what this might mean for specific species. I also believe that exceptions should exist if they are reasonable and all owners with enclosures deemed safe should be grandfathered if they don't meet new requirements. In the chart, I've omitted some animals that I don't believe are owned privately in the U.S.

*Property acreage is assigned to keep large dangerous animals out of residential neighborhoods and to insure that the property has the appropriate space for active carnivores.

AnimalCaging8 ft+ Perimeter fencing*Acreage requirements

Great apes

.5 acre



Big Cats

1 acre




2 acres



Venomous snakes

species appropiate dimensions

not required


Hyena and 2+ Wolf

.5 acre




3 acre



  • Experience level: For great apes, keepers must have worked extensively with mature animals and demonstrate to satisfaction a responsible approach to the long term keeping of intelligent, very strong animals. This experience should measure approximately 1000 hours. Owners of venomous snakes must receive at least 1 year of mentoring from an approved snake handler. Owners of bears, big cats, hyenas, and multiple wolves should demonstrate either satisfactory experience with similar species or have the long term ability to hire professional help. Elephant owners must have professional experience in elephant management. All criteria is subject to change and can be flexible. Educational experience in directly related fields (animal husbandry, zoology) are also accepted toward the hour amount requirement. Some states distribute written tests to assess education level.
  • Means of destruction: Owners of listed animals except for venomous snakes must own and understand how to use fire arms. They must also possess non-lethal means of distracting or incapacitating dangerous animals in close proximity to the animal's enclosure at all times. Such items include tasers, fire extinguishers, and bear spray. There must be a disaster plan in place.
  • Insurance policy: Owners of all listed animals (except venomous snakes) must obtain an insurance policy with a minimum coverage of one hundred thousand dollars ($100,000) per person and a minimum total of one million dollars ($1,000,000) per occurrence for bodily injury. In addition,the policy must contain a minimum coverage of fifty thousand dollars ($50,000) for damage to personal or real property. This rule was gleaned from the regulations of Brunswick County in North Carolina (where I will eventually move)
  • Animals should be micro-chipped. Authorities are required to be notified upon escape of these animals.
  • All species should be registered and notification of 'dangerous species present' should be conspicuously located on the property.

Class II Wildlife

Animals in this grouping possess the capability of harm, but pose very little danger to the public should they escape. The reptiles on this list have caused fatalities, but they are very rare. Unlike with warm-blooded animals, reptiles have more predictable behavior and limited movement, making it easier to avoid injury if common sense approaches are utilized, with the exception of highly venomous snakes, which are an enormous risk for the keeper but not necessarily the public. Fatalities from even wild large snakes (present in Florida as an invasive species) haven't occurred yet, and human fatalities from alligators in the Southeast are rare as well.


All Lesser apes: (Hylobatidae)

All old world monkeys: examples include Green monkey (Chlorocebus sabaeus), Patas monkey (Erythrocebus patas), macaques (Macaca sp.), *baboons (Papio sp.), Gelada (heropithecus gelada) mangabeys (Cercocebus sp.) *Mandrills (Mandrillus sp.) colobus monkeys (Colobus sp.) langurs (Semnopithecus sp.)

All Family Atelidae: Howler monkey (Alouatta sp.) Spider monkey (Ateles sp.)

*Baboons and mandrills were hard to place, I will probably switch them around based on what I learn.

  • Aves- Cassowary and ostrich
  • All Crocodylia
  • *Varanus sp.- Crocodile monitor (Varanus salvadorii), water monitor (Varanus salvator) Nile monitor (Varanus niloticus)
  • Canidae- 1-2 cape hunting dogs
  • Felidae- Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus)
  • Hyaenidae- Brown hyena

*There are 73 recognized species of monitor lizard, so I will only list and group species found in the American exotic pet trade. Experienced monitor lizard owners are welcome to chime in here.


Owners of the listed warm-blooded animals should maintain them on at least 2 acres of property. No listed warm-blooded animals should be maintained in any multi-unit dwellings or on any premises consisting of less than one quarter acre of land area. All species should be registered. The listed primate species will have minimum enclosure dimensions. The brown hyena should have minimum .25 acres. Applicants for permits for a Class II animal should demonstrate proficiency in the long-term care of the 'zoo grade' animal being applied for.

Class III Wildlife

The animals on this list should be registered with animal control, i.e. the relevant jurisdictions should have their species present on file. I will place an asterix (*) next to species that have minimum caging requirements, again, to insure that dedicated individuals take on their care. Anyone interested in keeping animals below requirements should submit an application and be subject to a home inspection.

With common sense, the large constrictors here should not be as dangerous as their capability touts. The uncommonness of these fatalities suggests that most keepers have it.

*All Non-human primates except old world monkeys, hylobatidae (lesser apes)
and family atelidae sp.

Marsupialia: kangaroos (Macropus sp.)

Canids: 2 or less wolf or wolfdogs (Canis lupus)

*All Felidae except 'big cats', domesticated cat and cheetah (ex. serval, lynx, bobcat, jungle cat, geoffrey cat

*Mustelidea: badgers, wolverines, otters (yes, it is possible to privately own an otter)

Artiodactyla: Camels (Camelus sp.) all deer except small species such as pudu and muntjac (Cervidae) all Suidae except the domestic pig, giraffe (Giraffa sp.) okapi (Okapia sp.) all Antilocapridae (pronghorn)

*Bovidae: Water buffalo (Bubalus bubalis) and antelope except duiker, grysbok, oribi, and dik dik

Reptilia: Large constrictor snakes-- Reticulated Python (Python reticulatus), Amethystine Python (Morelia amethistina), Green Anaconda (Eunectes murinus), Indian Python (Python molurus)--the Burmese python P. m. bivittata is a subspecies of the Indian) and the African Rock Python (Python sebae).

Animals that should have NO REGULATIONS against private possession

The following are examples of animals that do not pose any more of a threat to public safety than dogs and cats, or less. If they escape, the only threat is to the escapees' well being. It is by no means a suggestion that all the listed animals are regularly purchased by the general public or should be sought out as pets. Not all animals in the groups listed are actually in the United States pet trade.

For example, penguins are not privately owned nor would I ever recommend them. All endangered or protected animals that fall in this list should be subject to appropriate regulations, and all animals determined to have severe invasive tendencies should be regulated by state. Also this should be obvious, but apparently I have to point out that just like with horses, not all animals belong indoors or in small backyards.

On the grounds of public safety, there is no justification for banning these animals. All animals can bite! Just because an animal is listed here doesn’t mean it can’t send you to the hospital, just as legal domesticated dogs and cats can. Any animal of a certain size is also capable of killing infants and young children, or even frail adult humans.

It is not difficult for an average person (non-experienced, middle class) to provide for these animals financially and intellectually as long as they do the proper research.


All procyonidea (including raccoons, kinkajous, coatimundi, and ring-tailed cat)

Hyenidea: Aardwolf

Mustelidea: polecat (Ictonyx sp.) marten (martes sp.) weasel and domesticated ferret (Mustela sp.) mink (Neovison sp.) marbled polecat (Vormela peregusna)

All Mephitidae: (skunks, descented and captive bred)

All Hyracoidea

All Perissodactyla except members of Rhinocerotidae (or subject to any regulations in place for horse ownership)

All Aves (birds) except cassowary and ostrich

All Reptilia except crocodilians, highly venomous snakes and large constrictor snakes.

All reptiles except listed venomous species, large constrictors, large monitors outlined in class II and crocodilians.

* I might add more exceptions to this group


*All Arthropoda except Africanized bees (Apis mellifera) Deathstalker scorpian (Leiurus quinquestriatus)

All fully aquatic life (to save space, I will not go through every fish and invertebrate species. This group obviously does not include marine mammals, otters, sea snakes, sea turtles ect. It is pet trade fish, corals, crustaceans, jellyfish, sea sponges, octopus ect.)

All Marsupialia except kangaroos.

All Chiroptera

All Pilosa (anteater, sloth)

All Cingulata (armadillos)

All lagomorpha

All rodentia

All gazelles (Gazella sp.)

All viverridae: Spotted genet, civet, binturong

All exotic cat hybrids (Savannah cat, jungle cat, bengal)

Canids: New Guinea Singing dog, all foxes, low to mid content wolfdogs, dhole, raccoon dog, bush dog

Photo attribution for exotic animal collage

(CC BY 2.0): Riza Nugraha (macaw parrots) Louise Docker (preying mantis) Steve Wilson (reticulated python) Sonja Pauen (serval) Rob Bertholf (macaque monkey)

(CC BY-SA 2.0): David K (sugar glider)

Via Flickr


Let me know if I left out any species or if you feel a species is improperly categorized. Believe it or not, I'm not an expert on every animal species! I thought this would be easy but I got a little carried away when I decided to try to list every conceivable species that can be owned by a private person, so there might be a few inconsistencies.


Maya55 on November 08, 2016:

Breck123 - I know this is an old post, but I'm currently in communication with the City of Toronto regarding our current prohibited animal by-law, and they've asked me for some recommendations for prohibited pet regulation. They've also asked for data on what's happening with this issue in other Ontario municipalities. If you're interested in collaborating with me on this, let me know and we can connect!

Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on September 13, 2015:

There are no guarantees. I'm certain people could care for those animals with limited or no experience, but something should at least demonstrate familiarity. I would be more concerned with dedication exemplified by meeting the specific enclosure standards.

Alysia Smith on September 09, 2015:

How would someone go about getting experience with the class one animals in order to obtain a permit? There's not exactly a school you can go to for that. Would volunteering at a sanctuary to learn how to care for the animal count even though they would probably never allow you to directly interact with the animals? And how would you demonstrate proficiency in the long-term care of something like an alligator? Also I think the monitor lizards should be placed in class three instead of class two. They should be next to the large snakes.

ManNewt on August 03, 2015:

This list sort of sounds like the private ownership laws in Florida

Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on April 18, 2015:

I wish you the best Breck

Breck123 on April 17, 2015:

Thank you. Trying to change a law would be hard, but I feel that if it was a smaller town, it would be easier. In ontario, a tiger owner was able to change the laws to allow tigers to be kept. Now, granted, it did end up killing him years later. But the point is, if I were to barrage a legislator within a small municipality, with common sense facts about more harmless animals (identified in you article as animals that should not be regulated), and introduce them to a good permitting system, I think it may be possible.

Now, if we were talking about an entire state/province, an organization would be needed ( Rexano/ usark/ CanHerp).

Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on April 17, 2015:

Breck, this might be of some help to you, I haven't finished reading it but it looks very promising:

My belief is that laws are going to be very tough, or near impossible to change, but I still would like us to have a voice on this matter. I feel like they can get away with this because our opposition is so small and we're simply not taken seriously. If we want any kind of a chance, we can't stay silent.

Breck123 on April 16, 2015:


I currently live in ontario Canada. In ontario, exotic pets laws are governed at a municipal level. This used to be a good thing: many areas would have lax laws. But ever since the tragedy in Newfoundland, municipalities have been banning everything from ball pythons to ferrets. I am considering, in the near future, to visit some of my neighbouring municipalities and attempting to change their laws. I will inform them of the harmlessness of some animals (Xenarthra, most marsupials), and provide a template very similar to one above. I will show them statistics and basic animal facts about dangerous and non-dangerous exotics, and then possibly provide them with a template similar to the one above. I also have a masters in biology, which I would inform them of, just so they know I'm not some whacko off the street. So my question is: do you think doing this would be possible? Do you think doing this would change the laws? And I would probably only try this in smaller municipalities, not the ottawa region, or toronto.


Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on November 16, 2014:

That's the problem with domestication. I actually got confused trying to place certain animals knowing that I judged some wild animals by their capacity to kill but didn't do the same for so-called domesticated animals. Should the kangaroo and antelope be Class 3 if a camel isn't? I listed them that way because of the way they behave during the rutting season if not castrated. I wouldn't mind placing all 3 of those animals as not regulated, so perhaps the authorities can take comfort in my strictness. There's also the problem of me not knowing the animal's behavior in the wild vs. captivity. When humans are in close proximity to animals things are different, so each species should be assessed that way. I'd say the stripped hyena should be 3, but I'm sure that's too radical-sounding for most people to deal with. I'm not sure about the manned wolf.

Gila monsters fall under "All Reptilia except crocodilians, highly venomous snakes and large constrictor snakes.

All reptiles except listed venomous species, large constrictors, large monitors outlined in class II and crocodilians."

I think I wrote that twice by accident, but anything I didn't mention on the list are no restriction. That also covers the less venomous rear-fanged snakes. Unless they are more dangerous than I presume. I suppose dingoes can be the same since powerful independent working dog breeds are all fully legal. Again it seems like I'm holding the 'wild' animals to higher standards.

I didn't know that pet owners could get permits for pets in the UK? That would be place I'd expect that, surely they must be impossible to get?

Frida Nyberg from Sweden on November 16, 2014:

So, I read it all now and have translated it.

My only couple of nitpicks are camels - they have been domesticated for 4000 years (Bactrian) and 6000 years (Dromedary), as long as horses and common livestock. Because of their more predictable and even temperaments (not as jumpy or nervous as horses) and lack of hard hooves (horses, when they do injure or kill people, often do it by accident because of their hard feet), they should be viewed as less dangerous than those animals.

And like I said, they are not wild at all but in fact domesticated livestock.

Also striped hyenas - you did not mention them. Should they be in with the brown hyena (same size and lifestyle), or Class III?

(I guess the maned wolf - though they don't appear in the pet trade - would be placed the same as the dhole and other 'harmless' canids?)

And also you missed the gila monster and other venomous lizards - I guess they should be considered the same as large monitors or less venomous snakes?

And you mention the NGSD, I guess the Dingo should be considered the same?

This BTW reminds me a lot of UK regulations - for some animals, you neeed a Dangerous Wild Animal License, but as far as I understand, no animal is truly banned. I wish more countries could have laws like that, instead of just knee-jerk "BAN IT!"

Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on November 11, 2014:

Sure you can use it, let me know if you think any animal should be grouped differently or if I left something important out, because I think I bit off more than I could chew by trying to make this comprehensive. I'm really sorry about those ridiculous laws.

Frida Nyberg from Sweden on November 11, 2014:

This is really awesome stuff. I read most of it now, will finish it later.

I wonder, may I translate this to Swedish and post it on some animal-related page/s? If so, I will give full credit to you and a link back here.

It's just that the animal bans in Sweden are SO stupid (literally every primate, Carnivora-mammal and predatory bird banned with no exceptions, while venomous snakes, crocodiles, elephants, hippos, rhinos and most other animals are fully legal), and most people here, while generally good at English, are not really fluent and get lazy reading long texts in anything other than Swedish. :P

But people really need to see this. I don't know if I can ever get the laws to change, but it's something.

Mona Sabalones Gonzalez from Philippines on September 29, 2014:

Interesting list of potential house pets. I still love my dogs, though. I would like a pet chicken, but my dogs might eat it up. Life.

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