Laws & Regulations for Keeping an Exotic Pet

Updated April 17, 2017

Keeping exotic pets can be dangerous. The owner, the public and the animal itself can be put at risk. Even smaller exotic pets, such as capuchin monkeys or lemurs, can pose a threat due to the diseases they may carry. For these reasons, there are many laws and regulations regarding the private purchasing and owning of an exotic animal. These laws and regulations vary widely from state to state, and also depend on the specific animal in question. It is recommended that you contact your local fish and wildlife department to verify the most recent laws and regulations for your area before purchasing an exotic animal.

Federal Law

Federal law prohibits the sale and transportation of large cats, such as tigers and lions, across state lines. There currently are no federal laws regarding the private ownership of large cats or other exotic animals.


Some states, such as California and Georgia, completely ban the private ownership of any type of exotic pet. Some of these states provide permits for the ownership of exotic animals; however, the permit is only made available to nonprivate entities, such as a zoo.

Partial Bans

Other states ban only specific exotic animals, such as tigers, but allow others such as bears or wolves. Illinois bans tigers, lions, cheetahs and several other exotic animals; however, nonhuman primates are excluded from this list.


States such as Delaware and Indiana allow the private ownership of exotic animals, however they require the owner to obtain special permits. Usually the owner is also required to have proof that the animal was obtained legally.

No Regulation

Finally, some states have no regulations or rules at all pertaining to the ownership of exotic animals. Such states include Wisconsin and West Virginia.

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About the Author

Based in Mississippi, Hannelore Davis has a bachelor's degree in interactive design and game development. Davis also has two years of experience in supporting technical issues with Internet and digital phone for a large telecommunications company.