Decades before exotic pets became popular, the United States had some very odd animal laws, which today raise several questions about our ancestors' interactions with wildlife. For example, it was once illegal for a gorilla to ride in the back of a car in Massachusetts -- but what about the front seat? And in Florida, a law stated that parking fees must be paid for an elephant tied to a meter, just as if it were a car. But when were elephants a popular mode of transportation in the Sunshine State, and how exactly do you tie an elephant to a parking meter anyway? These days, most states have pretty standard exotic animal laws in place that either ban wild animals as pets or require certain permits. Although most weird pet laws from years past have long been repealed, we found five states where the exotic animal laws still border on bizarre.
5. Gator Country
In the state where a mouse named Mickey is the most popular celebrity and alligators show up regularly in backyards, exotic pet laws have their own special twist. While Florida regulations do prohibit some dangerous animals, including orangutans, leopards and bears, from being kept as pets, there is a long list of wild creatures that are allowed, as long as owners meet certain requirements. Animals such as howler monkeys, cougars, gray wolves and alligators (but not the American kind) are all acceptable as domestic animals in the Sunshine State. However, they do require a permit, and you'll have to be 18 or older to initiate the licensing process. Additionally, you'll need at least one year of experience handling your chosen species, or you'll have to pass a written exam before you can adopt. Apartment dwellers who want exotic pets, however, are completely out of luck -- unless they can prove they have private entrances and private yards.
4. The Last Frontier for Pets
Known for its vast wilderness, Alaska is relatively relaxed about its wild animal laws. In fact, it's perfectly legal for a person to own all sorts of odd species without a permit, including chimpanzees and alligators. However, if you own one of these exotic pets and live in Alaska, you'll want to make sure you're able to care for it for the duration of its life, because while you're allowed an exotic pet, it's illegal to release one into the wild.
Also, take note if you visit Juneau, the state's capital city, with your pet. There is a specific city law that prohibits all pets from entering any beauty shop. This makes us wonder what happened in Juneau hair salons: Did an exotic pet wreak havoc after a particularly bad haircut? File this under things that make you go "hmmm."
3. Pet Home on the Range
North Dakota is the 19th largest state, but the third least populated, which means there's plenty of wildlife roaming free. But it's not a complete free-for-all, as there are some domestic animal laws North Dakotans must follow. For example, skunks are expressly prohibited from being kept as pets. However, the state does recognize wild animals like elk, donkeys and ostriches as domestic animals. Perhaps the reasoning behind this law is to allow ranches the legal ability to keep game on their land, but it doesn't stop a person from keeping one of these beefy beasts in his or her suburban backyard, either.
2. Monkeying Around in AZ
If you live in the Grand Canyon state and have a love for exotics, pay attention: According to state law, it is OK to have a primate without a permit, as long as it isn't an infant. That's right, you can own a fully grown chimpanzee or other nonhuman member of the primate family, but you'll need to raise it in another state until it reaches maturity.
Additionally, you can own other exotic pets, like an alligator, as long as you get a permit. In order to get a license, you must prove you have adequate living space and the animal must pass a health inspection, among other requirements. You'll also want to bone up on your exotic animal knowledge, because you'll have to take an exam proving you understand the species and how to care for it properly.
1. Alabama Animals
Many exotic animals live deep in the heart of Dixie, and Alabama's lenient exotic pet laws are partly to blame. While this southern state prohibits the possession of animals such as piranha, jack rabbits, elk and mongoose, they don't have much on the books when it comes to dangerous exotics like lions, bears, alligators or apes. In fact, animal activists formed a tiger sanctuary in Alabama due to the many tigers being rescued from backyard pens or unscrupulous roadside zoos. According to Alabama's "Thicket" magazine, someone really set on owning a dangerous wild animal could do so whether they live in the country or in downtown Birmingham.
While some residents of these five states might not be surprised to learn a risky animal is living next door, would you? Without federal regulations to keep things in check, having an exotic pet as your neighbor might not be as bizarre as you think.
- Animal Legal and Historical Center. Michigan State University College of Law. (Sept. 14, 2010)
- Born Free USA. "State Laws Governing Private Possession of Exotic Animals." (Sept. 14, 2010)
- Liebman, Matthew. "Detailed Discussion of Exotic Pet Laws." Animal Legal and Historical Center. 2004. (Sept. 14, 2010)
- Mooney, Jill. "Ripley's Believe It Or Not! Encyclopedia Of The Bizarre." Black Dogs and Leventhal Publishers, Inc. 2002.
- Smyth, Julie Carr. "Some state laws are lax on exotic pets." Associated Press. Boston Globe. September 5, 2010. (Sept. 14, 2010)
- Thomson, Keith. "The Orange and Black Market." Thicket Magazine. January 2009. (Sept. 14, 2010) http://thicketmag.com/content/?p=367