Melissa cares for a variety of exotic animals and has completed a certificate in veterinary assisting and a bachelor's degree in biology.
Exotic Pets That Can Be Legally Owned in Indiana
Indiana is a state that is simultaneously known for having very strict laws on exotic pet ownership and allowing residents to own nearly any animal. This seemingly contradictory information is due to the state’s Department of Natural Resources having had past requirements that most owners of exotic pets obtain possession permits.
What separates Indiana from other states that require a permit or license to own an exotic animal is that the DNR would actually give permits to pet owners . This means that while other states technically issue permits, meeting the criteria to get one is extremely difficult, nearly impossible, or in most cases, these exemptions aren’t even considered for "regular" pet owners; instead, only exhibitors, educational and scientific facilities, and "legitimate" wildlife sanctuaries are eligible. This would effectively make permit-only animals banned in those states.
Indiana however, like Florida, is unique in that permits are issued for any reason as long as the applicant can meet the requirements. Also like Florida, animals are grouped by the designation Class I, Class II, or Class III supposedly based on how potentially dangerous they are, but while Florida’s requirements are stringent or restricted for people without substantial experience or exhibition goals (starting a zoo) for all but Class III animals (these are ranked the least dangerous), Indiana appears to issue permits to non-commercial pet owners as long as they meet some more fair requirements .
Some requirements for a permit to possess any class of animal included:
- A very reasonable $10 application fee.
- The animal must be obtained legally, and this includes out of state.
- Veterinarian confirmation of the animal’s health.
Permit Requirements for Class III Animals
Some extra requirements to get a permit to possess "dangerous" Class III animals included:
- Inspection of the facility by a conservation officer.
- A statement on what species is being kept and the location of where it would be possessed.
- A re-capture plan and possession of any of the necessary equipment to carry out that plan.
- Contact information of the individuals who would be attempting to re-capture the animal.
- A permit holder would be required to notify the department immediately if an escape occurs.
DNR Loses Authority?
However, a change that occurred in 2015 may have invalidated the entire permitting system. In February of 2015, the Court of Appeals ruled against the Indiana Department of Natural Resources as a result of a case involving high-fenced hunting, finding that the DNR could not regulate a private owner’s controlled hunting. This effectively removed the DNR’s authority to regulate legally owned exotic pets as well, nullifying their wild animal possession permits and their authority to impose restrictions and rules .
At the time of the ruling, there were 263 permits granted for mostly smaller exotics . Therefore, if this ruling is still in place and exotic pet laws have not been updated, unless a species is controlled under another wildlife rule, all exotics in Indiana are legal without a permit. Under the ruling, the state also cannot issue game breeder licenses and reptile captive breeder permits.
Here Are Some Exotic Pets You Can Legally Own in Indiana
Here are 10 exotic species that can be legally owned in the state of Indiana under current law and permitting requirements.
The Eastern grey squirrel, fox squirrel, and southern flying squirrel are rodents that naturally occur in Indiana and were classified as Class I animals along with the Eastern cottontail rabbit. This was considered to be the "least dangerous" category, although the number of species on the list is inexplicably short. Obtaining a permit for these animals was likely the easiest.
There are numerous animals placed into the Class II category, yet for some reason, most of them are small to medium-sized felines. Servals, along with other cats like sand cats, Geoffroy’s cats, and jungle cats are some examples. Missing is another more commonly owned exotic cat, the caracal, which should also be legal in Indiana. Why many cat species that are rarely, if ever, owned privately appear on the list while more common exotic pet species such as genets, kinkajous, and wallabies are not listed is unclear.
3. Venomous Snakes
Venomous reptiles, which includes snakes and a couple of lizards, are defined as Class III wildlife in Indiana, as they should be. Highly venomous snakes are probably the most common species to cause fatalities when it comes to captive animals, and specialized training and housing should be mandatory for their care in most cases. However, not all venomous snakes are deadly to those without severe allergies to bee stings, such as some rear-fanged species. Thankfully part of the definition of "venomous reptile" in the rule states that the animal must be able to inflict serious injury or death, so snakes like hognose snakes are fine. The Indiana code outlines some pretty specific caging requirements for venomous snakes specifically.
It is common for so-called pure bred wolves to be listed in the highest categories of potential threat to public safety. However, true wolves are usually shy around humans and pose them little threat. Wolfdogs are exempt from permit requirements in Indiana, but their unstable mix of genetics from human-comfortable domesticated dogs and the high drive of a wolf can sometimes give them unsafe temperaments. Also, most wolves in captivity have some degree of dog DNA outside of strict breeding programs. "Wolfdogs" are probably not less dangerous than wolves, but they are sometimes not seen as "dangerous" due to their perceived domestication.
5. Arctic Fox
This smaller canid is not listed in any Class of wildlife, unlike the native red fox and the grey fox, therefore they could be owned without a permit before the DNR lost their authority.
Skunks are unfortunately made illegal to own in most states because they are rabies vectors, although there are little or no cases of pet skunks having acquired the disease. The striped skunk is a Class II animal, and other species of skunk are not mentioned at all, making them unregulated prior to the Court of Appeals ruling.
A "cervidae breeder license" used to be required to own deer species and this would only be distributed to owners of legitimate deer breeding operations. Now it appears that breeder permits are not distributed anymore possibly making owning deer unregulated.
Surprisingly, there appears to have never been any regulations for primates under the Indiana code, as they are not listed under any class of animal. This is uncommon because when it comes to the regulation of exotic pets, monkeys, apes, and their relatives are usually some of the first groups to be prohibited or have specialized requirements, due to their perceived intelligence, ability to share some diseases with humans, and their unfortunate tendency to carry out attacks on strangers.
9. Dwarf Caiman
The Indiana code states that crocodilians that are at least 5 feet long are Class III animals. It is unclear if this pertains to the growth capabilities of the species regardless of sex or if any individual crocodilian that maxes out under the specified length could be rendered free of permit requirements. The smallest crocodilian that is the most common in captivity is the dwarf caiman, and they vary in size. Females are said to reach approximately 4 feet in length, so perhaps they could not qualify as Class III animals.
In addition to other legal rodents, these "giant guinea pigs" should be among those which can be owned legally in Indiana. These exotics are unlikely to be regulated by other Indiana codes.
- ARTICLE 9. FISH AND WILDLIFE Accessed online at https://www.in.gov/ipac/files/5b_-_Owen.DNR_Codes.pdf
- Kelly, Niki. Ruling De-regulates Some Wild Animal Possession Permits. Accessed October 27, 2019, at https://www.journalgazette.net/news/local/indiana/Ruling-de-regulates-some-wild-animal-possession-permits-7504326
- Kugler, Carol. “Indiana Court of Appeals Ruling Removes State Control Over Captive Wildlife.” (Online), Indiana Economic Digest. Accessed October 27, 2019, at https://indianaeconomicdigest.com/Content/Most-Recent/Infrastructure/Article/Indiana-Court-of-Appeals-ruling-removes-state-control-over-captive-wildlife/31/67/81913
- Natural Resources Commission. Indiana Administrative Code. Title 312. Natural Resources Commission. Article 9. Fish and Wildlife. Rule 11. Wild Animal Possession Permits.
- Smith, Hannah. “Foxes, Cougars, Skunks: Hoosiers Can Own About Any Animal.” (Online), Indiana Economic Digest. Accessed October 27, 2019, at https://www.indystar.com/story/life/2014/08/09/exotic-animals-pets/13821383/
- “State Regulations” (Online), Sybil’s Den. Accessed October 1, 2019, at http://sybilsden.com/reference/state-regs.htm
- Tegeder, Gabrielle. "A Research Framework for the Geographic Study of Exotic Pet Mammals in the USA". Thesis and Dissertation in Geography.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Susan Belski on November 11, 2019:
I own two guinea pigs. I have no interest in owning a fox or snake or any other exotic animal. I do my best in caring for my 2 3year old male guinea pigs. Each piggy is in his own 2x4 c&c cage. (THEY WILL FIGHT IF HOUSED TOGETHER),
Their csges are spot cleaned twice daily, bottom cleaned every day. Wet fleece thrown in the wash and replaced with dry clean fleece. Each piggy has hay at both cage ends. 2 bottles of water that is filtered. Adult guinea pig pellets in a small food bowl. Each pig gets leafy greens daily, I am cautious with higher calcium veggies. I dont want any of my males getting stones. One of my piggies already had a small issue with some painful urination which I got urine sample, pack him up and got him checked for bladder stones or uti. He was xrayed. Thankfully xrays were negative. But I felt that it is imperative that I watch calcium intake on both pigs. I had two guinea pigs in the past die from bladder stones. If I have q uestions, I ask my piggies' vet. She has a piggy of her own and is a great vet for dogs and cats and exotics.