List Of Exotic Animals Banned In The US

By Kate Boland on March 23 2020 in Did You Know

Big cats like lions are banned in the US. Photo by Waldemar Brandt on Unsplash.
Big cats like lions are banned in the US. Photo by Waldemar Brandt on Unsplash.
  • The illegal trade of banned exotic animals is worth $15 billion dollars in the United States.
  • Hawaii has the strictest laws regarding pet ownership. Even cats and dogs are put into quarantine when they visit the island state.
  • Regulations around exotic pets is mostly done at the state level, and rules vary from state to state.

Many animal lovers are surprised to discover the illegal wildlife trade has become a multibillion-dollar business. Trade includes plants, sealife, birds, and animals harvested for pets, souvenirs, traditional medicine, or demand for precious material such as ivory. According to the United States Fish & Wildlife Service, only illicit drugs and weapons are larger than the black market of exotic pets, while the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) reports it is a $15 billion dollar business just within the US.


Endangered wildlife is often sought out for its rarity, putting a species at even greater risk. There is also a danger to humans. While larger animals can attack their owners, neighbors, or domesticated pets, others carry transmittable diseases that can be fatal to humans such as salmonella and herpes B virus, among a lethal list of others.

The IUCN lists African elephants as vulnerable and Asian elephants as endangered. Photo by AJ Robbie on Unsplash.

Laws & Regulations

The ASPCA states any animal wild by nature, or removed from its wild habitat, should not be permitted as a pet, but few federal laws restrict the possession of exotic animals. Most regulations exist at the state or city level. Hawaii is the strictest, banning almost all animals other than cats and dogs to protect its island ecosystem. Nevada has some of the most lenient laws, permitting ownership of exotic pets that are banned in nearly every other state. Here is a list of exotic animals that are frequently banned in the United States.

10. Big Cats

Photo by Jeremy Avery on Unsplash

The Captive Wildlife Safety Act bans the sale, transportation, or aquirement of big cats across the US border and between states. This includes lions, tigers, jaguars, cheetahs, cougars, varieties of leopards, and also their subspecies and hybrids.

9. Elephants

Photo by paweldotio on Unsplash

Only a minority of states, like Nevada, have no restrictions on owning an elephant. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, however, does participate in international attempts to halt poaching and illegal ivory trade.

8. Mustelidae

Photo by Jerome Heuze on Unsplash

This family, including weasels, otters, and polecats, are banned in most states. Ferrets, also mustelidae, are permitted everywhere except Hawaii, Washington DC and California.

7. Bats

Photo by Steven Pahel on Unsplash

Considered a rabies vector species, states have strict regulations around keeping bats as pets or importing them internationally.

6. Piranhas

Photo by Marquas Dietachmair on Unsplash

All 20 species of these ferocious fish are banned in at least 25 states, with restrictions existing in many others.

5. Carnivora

Photo by Sebastian Scheuer on Unsplash

Many states have a blanket ban on the order Carnivora, making it illegal to keep captive as a pet big cats, bears, hyenas, as well as wolves, foxes and their hybrids.

4. Non-Human Primates

Photo by Jamie Haughton on Unsplash

Most states prohibit primates, including monkeys and apes, as pets. Many also ban small prosimians like lemurs and slow loris. States that do permit primates have strict regulations around their care.

3. Crocodilia

Photo by Bas van Brandwijk on Unsplash

Even Nevada does not permit crocodiles or alligators to be kept captive as pets.

2. Venomous Reptiles

Photo by Boris Smokrovic on Unsplash

Not only venomous snakes, like cobras and mambas, but also large constricting ones are banned in many states. Regulations also exist around poisonous reptiles like Gila monsters.

1. Penguins

Photo by Derek Oyen on Unsplash

Adorable? Yes. Legal? No. Even if you were able to provide the correct climate for these flightless marine birds, only zoos and designated facilities are permitted to house captive penguins.

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