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Is it Legal to Own an Exotic Animal?

Celebrities do it all the time. That is, owning an exotic animal. 

Miley Cyrus and George Clooney have mentioned each has a pet pig. Tori Spelling cares for (and naps with) a chicken. Other celebrities, such as Salvador Dali and Michael Jackson, made the idea of owning an exotic animal more popular. Ever heard of Joe Exotic, aka the Tiger King? These creatures, however, are just the tip of the exotic animal ownership iceberg. The real question is, is it legal to own these exotica animals in the United States? 

In reality, the laws governing ownership of exotic animals differ by state. It is not surprising that animal rights advocates warn people of keeping wild animals in captivity. This has not, however, kept exotic pet lovers from legally owning these animals. Some examples of exotic pets that people own in the U.S. include alligators, bears, ferrets, foxes, and tigers. Below is a list of 14 animals that are legal to own as pets in America, according to Business Insider:

  • Anteaters;
  • Tigers;
  • Foxes;
  • Tarantulas;
  • Alligators;
  • Kangaroos;
  • Llamas;
  • Skunks;
  • Porcupines;
  • Boa constrictors;
  • Cougars;
  • Sloths;
  • Bears; and
  • Monkeys.

These are just a few of the exotic animals that are legally allowed to be owned as pets in America. 

Exotic Animal Ownership

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), more than 13% of American households owned an exotic or specialty pet at the end of 2016. This number is a 25% increase from 2011. This type of pet ownership is more common in rural areas, with the top 10 states with the highest percentage of exotic animal ownership being: 

  • Arkansas (69%)
  • Colorado (65%)
  • Idaho (70%)
  • Indiana (69%)
  • Mississippi (65%)
  • Nebraska (70%)
  • Oklahoma (65%)
  • Vermont (70%)
  • West Virginia (71%)
  • Wyoming (72%)

Conversely, exotic pet ownership is less common in urban areas; the top 10 states with the lowest percentage of exotic animal ownership are the following:

  • Connecticut (50%)
  • Georgia (51%)
  • Illinois (49%)
  • Maryland (49%)
  • Massachusetts (49%)
  • New Jersey (47%)
  • New York (50%)
  • Rhode Island (45%)
  • South Dakota (45%)

Exotic Animal Attacks

Not surprisingly, owning an exotic pet places much more responsibility on the owner. While domesticated (i.e., non-exotic) animals can also cause harm to others, the damage done by exotic animals can often be much more serious. While there are products that keep domestic animals away from people, such as wireless fences and electric collars, these products do not exist specific to exotic animals. 

Between 1900 and 2021, there were 91 reported deaths caused by exotic pets in the United States. While this number may not seem high, keep in mind that this only accounts for the attacks and resulting deaths that were actually reported to authorities. Oftentimes owners keep their exotic pets illegally and hide the harm caused by them to avoid civil and/or criminal prosecution by authorities. While death by mauling or other aggressive behavior from an exotic animal is the worst result possible, it is not just physical attacks that people should be concerned about. 

According to the Journal of Pediatric Health Care (JPHC), as much as 75% of all human infections begin with an animal-born disease. Exotic pet statistics reveal that these animals can carry bacteria that is unsafe for humans. Accordingly, it is not just attacks or scratches or bites that should be concerning for those interacting with an exotic animal. Sometimes just touching that animal can render someone ill.

Reach Out to Experienced Personal Injury Lawyers

If you have been injured by an animal, we can help you fight for the compensation you deserve. Contact H&P Law today to explore your legal options. 

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