Exotic Pets

While the definition has changed over time and continues to change, an exotic pet generally refers to an animal that is either not customarily domesticated or is generally not found in a particular region. Over time certain animals, like hedgehogs and some reptiles, have become a bit more common, so they aren’t exactly considered exotic pets anymore.

Whether or not some of these animals should be kept as pets is questionable. Not only are there legal issues surrounding the purchase and possession of certain wild animals in each state, but some are also wild and struggle to adapt to a domesticated lifestyle. Hence, forcing them into one causes an ethical dilemma.

Exotic Animals as Pets

List of Animals kept as Exotic Pets

1. Aardwolves


Legal in: Oregon

An insectivorous species of hyena, the aardwolf is relatively non-aggressive and doesn’t attack large animals.

2. Alligators


Legal in: Alaska, Florida, and Utah

Thanks to the irresponsible behavior of previous pet owners, who would buy baby alligators and release them into the wild when they got older and bigger, alligator ownership is now restricted in most U.S. states.

3. Anteaters


Legal in: Oregon

While anteaters can be kept as pets, they are notoriously difficult to maintain, and their lifespan drastically decreases in captivity.

4. Ball Pythons

Ball Python

Legal in: Arkansas

These snakes are docile and easy to handle, making them a popular pet among reptile enthusiasts.

5. Bearded Dragons

Bearded Dragon

Legal in: Arkansas, Delaware, Massachusetts, and Oregon

These dragons are very popular as pets and are generally easy to care for, making them a good choice for beginners and experts.

6. Boas


Legal in: Illinois, Massachusetts, Montana, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Wyoming

These snakes tend to be calm and are generally easy to handle.

7. Caimans


Legal in: Arkansas, Colorado

While a bit unusual as a pet, caimans tend to be aggressive and don’t like to be handled. Only dwarf caimans should be kept as pets and only be expert pet owners.

8. Cheetah


Legal in: Missouri (with a permit)

Keeping a Big Cat like a cheetah is daunting and expensive, but they are generally docile.

9. Coyotes


Legal in: Arkansas, Missouri (with a permit), and Wyoming

Despite having a similar appearance to dogs, coyotes should be only bought from breeders, and no one should attempt to domesticate a wild one.

10. Dolphins


Legal in: Oregon

While there are places where one can keep a dolphin, a private individual is unlikely to be able to keep a dolphin in captivity.

11. Elephants


Legal in: Nevada and Oregon

Elephants are sometimes kept as pets, but the practice is generally discouraged as feeding and maintaining them takes a lot of work.

12. Fennec Foxes

Fennec Fox

Legal in: Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Tennessee

Due to their cute appearance and playful behavior, fennec foxes are kept as pets in several states. However, they do not like being handled and may bite if agitated.

13. Giant Pandas

Giant Panda

Legal in: California

Pandas are extremely difficult to obtain even by zoos, so it is doubtful that a private individual can get one.

14. Hedgehogs


Legal in: All states except for California, Georgia, Hawaii, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey

Hedgehogs are one of the exotic pets that have been naturalized over time in most states because they are easy to handle and can bond with their owners.

15. Jaguars


Legal in: Missouri (with a permit)

Jaguars are very difficult to keep in captivity, and unlike other Big Cats, they cannot be tamed.

16. Lions


Legal in: Missouri (with a permit)

Likewise, lions are sometimes kept in captivity when they shouldn’t be, as they are challenging to care for.

17. Monitor Lizards

Monitor Lizard

Legal in: Arkansas, California, Massachusetts, Montana, Oregon, and Vermont

While they require a bit of care and patience, monitor lizards can be great pets.

18. Ocelots


Legal in: Missouri (with a permit)

Ocelots are very difficult to handle, as they tend to remain close to their mothers for a long time and require a lot of proximity from their owners.

19. Poison Dart Frogs

Poison Dart Frog

Legal in: Most states in the United States

These frogs are entirely harmless when domesticated, as their diet is what makes them secrete poison. This makes them easy to handle.

20. Raccoons


Legal in: Arkansas, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Florida, Indiana, Michigan, Nebraska, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

They can be easy to train and love to cuddle once fully domesticated. However, it is generally not recommended to train a wild raccoon.

21. Raccoon Dogs

Raccoon Dog

Legal in: None of the states

Despite their cute appearance, the raccoon dog is not legal to own because of the risk it poses of becoming an invasive species.

22. Red Foxes

Red Fox

Legal in: Wyoming

Red foxes may appeal to certain pet owners, but they are not considered good pets as they have trouble adjusting to life indoors.

23. Sharks


Legal in: None of the states

Most large sharks are saltwater creatures migrating over long distances, so they’re tough to keep in captivity.

24. Tiger Salamanders

Tiger Salamander

Legal in: Most states except Maryland (some require permits)

Tiger salamanders are very delicate to handle compared to other amphibians and reptiles, with only experts able to care for them properly.

25. Tigers


Legal in: Alabama, Delaware, Nevada, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

While keeping tigers may be legal in certain states, they generally require permits and a lot of space to roam around. So private individuals usually cannot own one.

26. Toucans


Legal in: Alaska, California, Florida, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, Oregon, and Rhode Island

Most species of toucans make excellent pets as they can be friendly, display a lot of intelligence, and are generally curious.

27. Wild Boars

Wild Boar

Legal in: None of the states

Despite occasionally being adopted as pets when they are piglets, they become feral when they are adults and are generally not considered a good choice for a pet.

28. Wolves


Legal in: Alaska, Arkansas, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Virginia (all these states except for Nevada require a permit)

Wolves are generally closely related to dogs, so they can become good pets with a bit of care. But one should never try to domesticate a wild wolf.

Legal Issues

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) issues permits to keep and breed certain exotic species. Still, animals bred in captivity exist in the trade, using those brought in legally before the ban.

The US Captive Wild Animal Safety Act became law in 2003, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service worked on enforcing it from September 2007 onwards. The law bans selling or transporting big cats and their various hybrids across state lines.

As of September 2014, most US states have some rules regarding the possession of exotic pets except for Alabama, Nevada, and North Carolina. CITES moderates the exotic animal trade worldwide to prevent threats to their survival and ecological damage.

However, the failure to properly enforce these regulations leaves many loopholes for the illicit trade to continue. Illegally transporting exotic pets generates an estimated $7 to $23 billion annually.

Environmental Issues

Removing an animal from the wild to be reared as an exotic pet leaves the breeding population with fewer specimens. This can bring species already at risk closer to extinction.

On the other hand, if the pet escapes or is released into the wild, it may end up wrecking the balance of the local ecosystem. For instance, Florida is home to 137 invasive amphibians and reptiles, most of which were pets.

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