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10 Exotic Pets That Are Legal to Own in New York State

Updated on February 26, 2017

Exotic animals as pets in New York State

Most exotic animals are regulated by the Department of Conservation (DEC). When it comes to exotic pets, ‘The Big 5’ are defined as 'wild animals' and are illegal as they are in many states. These animals include bears, primates, big cats, canids, venomous and large reptiles (crocodilians, large constrictor snakes, and large monitor lizards). A lot more animals are legal in New York State, as opposed to New York City, where most animals are illegal.

Note: All information comes from online resources and personal knowledge. You should contact your state’s agency as well as your city, county, and neighborhood association if you are serious about adopting uncommon exotic pets.

1. Coatimundi

The pictured coati is albino
The pictured coati is albino

This long-nosed South American relative of the raccoon should be legal according to the New York’s wild animal ordinance since it is not a native animal it doesn’t fall under any native game laws. The coatimundi is a relatively large animal with reasonable intelligence and capable dexterity.

2. Binturong


This large creature is famous for having an odor that resembles popcorn. Also called a bearcat but not a member of the feline family, binturongs may look dangerous but most of them living in pet situations are even-tempered. Since they do not fall in the category of a non-domesticated member of felidae and they are non-native to New York, they are not a regulated species in the state.

3. Fennec Fox


Luckily for New Yorkers, fennec foxes are the only species from ‘The Big 5’ that are legal to own in the state. Before the animal ban was finalized in NYS, fennec fox owners brought their pets to meet legislators and with the truth that at least some exotic pets aren’t so bad staring them in the face, this species was exempted. It’s too bad more owners of more species didn’t come forward and perhaps prove the truth that should be obvious: minimally, smaller exotic pets are not any more dangerous than dogs and cats and should never be banned. Unfortunately, that leaves other small fox species like the bat-eared fox illegal.

4. Kinkajou

All primates are illegal as pets in New York, but a kinkajou can make a similar-looking replacement. They are actually in the raccoon family, but possess a prehensile tail and monkey-like form. Like primates, they should have a spacious enclosure and lead a mentally active lifestyle. Some people report that they can have a nasty side. They won’t be killing anyone but you will want to avoid a bite from a kinkajou’s decently-sized dentition.

5. Wallaby

Exotic marsupials are legal in New York. This includes sugar gliders, short-tailed opossums, wallabies and kangaroos. The animals are unusual but harmless to the general public.

Unfortunately for one wallaby owner in Westchester, their well-cared for pet escaped its enclosure in 2014. Macropods require secure outdoor housing.

6. Hyena?

There may very well be a loophole in New York’s ‘Big 5’ ban; it seems to leave out members of hyaenidae, which include the aardwolf, striped hyena and spotted hyena. People mistakenly think these are part of the canine family, but they are in their own group and are more closely related to cats, being feliforms. This makes hyenas technically legal in New York State. However, should someone be found with a hyena, it is certain the officials will realize their error and enact an emergency update to the law, and without a grandfather clause, the bold owner might be in some trouble. It is likely no city or county would be open to approving such an animal as well. Even if they have no existing laws against it, they’ll likely create it.

7. Exotic Squirrels

The grey and fox squirrels are native rodents that are regulated under game laws but non-native squirrels such as the prevost’s squirrel, Guayaquil Squirrel and Siberian chipmunk (which look very similar to New York’s native chipmunks) can be possessed. Relative to other rodents, squirrels can be challenging pets because of their energy and space requirements.

8. Capybara

Being an exotic rodent, this hefty semi-aquatic guinea pig relative can live with you in the state as well as maras, pacas, and agoutis. Capybaras are the largest rodent in the world.

9. Porcupine


Just like hedgehogs, a porcupine can become your quilled companion. They are simply large rodents. Probably except native North American porcupines, the species you can have include African Crested, Palawan (Asia) , and prehensile-tailed porcupines (South America).

10. Boa constrictors


In New York, ‘large’ constrictor snakes are illegal. Large is a relative term but is better defined by species that have killed humans or are around the same size as those that have, although this is an extremely rare occurrence. Such snakes include anacondas, Burmese pythons, African rock python, and Reticulated python, all of which are banned. Boa constrictors are relatively large snakes and there has been a recorded death from this species in recent time, however they do not get as large as the others, reaching 3-13 feet depending on the species and care.


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      ManNewt 2 months ago

      If primates arenot on the big 5, then why are they banned?

    • Melissa A Smith profile image

      Melissa A Smith 8 weeks ago from New York

      I forgot to add them. Too bad, I wanted it to stay at 5.

    • profile image

      ManNewt 8 weeks ago

      Don't worry, you can place the venomous reptiles and the big reptiles on the same category as intimidating reptiles, and voilà five groups.

    • profile image

      Tori 7 weeks ago

      I thought sugar gliders were illegal in New York.

    • Melissa A Smith profile image

      Melissa A Smith 7 weeks ago from New York


    • profile image

      AP 5 weeks ago

      A lot of states blanket ban all carnivores, and those that don't usually ban hyenas. In terms of what animals seem to be most commonly banned I'd say it's a "big four" of carnivorans, primates, crocodilians, and venomous snakes. (Elephants are also usually banned, but anyone who can afford to keep an elephant can afford to jump through the hoops to become an educational facility of some sort.)

      A second tier of commonly-banned animals includes native mammals, deer, bats, and armadillos (all due to disease concerns), Virginia opossums (caught up in furbearer regulations), large constricting snakes (due to safety concerns) and quaker parakeets (due to environmental concerns, though as those have proven unfounded those laws are being slowly repealed).

      I think "Born Free" focuses on getting carnivores and primates banned in particular, and this explains why marmosets and tamarins aren't exempted from primate bans, as the are in many jurisdictions in Europe. Any state which at least bans those animals is a good start in their eyes, though they also lobbied Massachusetts not to legalize sugar gliders, showing that they're opposed to all exotic animal ownership and probably all animal ownership period.

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      Debbie Doubtful 5 weeks ago

      Well im glad I read NY Dept of Health website after reading this page...To author, there is some misinformation on here, specifically squirrel, boa constrictors are illegal in NY...and so are sugar gliders

    • Melissa A Smith profile image

      Melissa A Smith 5 weeks ago from New York

      Debbie Doubtful: nope

    • profile image

      cool kid 3 weeks ago

      can you have a pet Alaskan munk

    • profile image

      AdamNy 2 days ago

      DebbieDoubtful. Their is a difference between NYC and NYS.

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