10 Exotic Pets That Are Legal to Own in California
Always do your research before acquiring any uncommon pet that some lawmaker might decide is a threat to the environment, human health, or the animal itself.
Simply put, if you want an exotic pet mammal, stay out of California. California is known among ferret enthusiasts for being one of two states that has an unshakable ban placed on owning these elongated carnivores. In fact, any questions about pet legality in the state should be posed ‘what animals are legal?’ instead of ‘is this animal legal?’
1. Hybrid Cats
These exotic pets which are actually technically domesticated—perhaps more so than a common non-pedigree cat—are legal in most states depending on their percentage of so-called wild genetics. Hybrid cats consist of the breeds Savannah cat (serval hybrid), Bengal cat (Asian Leopard Cat hybrid) and the jungle cat hybrid. None of these hybrids are mixed with so-called big cats, and all are not large enough to desire to prey on humans.
Still, hybrid cats carry a large stigma. In California, all generation hybrid cats are legal. This rule is much better than in states like New York, which only allow F5 and under. These restrictions are hypocritical under any reason, as 'regular' cats can and have attacked humans, have become a serious environmental threat (mainly because people tirelessly push to prevent controlling feral populations and stopping the free-roaming cat culture), and they have the same exact needs as so-called wild animals.
The California ordinance states that all members of the family Equidae are not restricted. Therefore, provided they are not prohibited by another ordinance, this would make zebras, wild horses and donkeys, and any hybrids of those legal. Zebras are not as shocking to own as you might think and are sometimes maintained like typical livestock. They do spook more easily than horses and donkeys and require an experienced trainer should anyone want to ride them. The idea of riding zebras has been popularized by the children's movie Racing Stripes. Pet zebras are more commonly and reasonably owned as pets that are interesting to watch.
3. Monitor Lizards
Despite being a state with pathetic laws banning hedgehogs and ferrets, reptile laws are surprisingly lax aside from venomous reptiles. Monitor lizards range from the small and personable acanthurus monitors which make excellent pets, to the large and intimidating Asian water monitors that are best suited for experienced owners. Crocodile monitors are another species notorious for their bad bites that can cause serious reactions from bacterial agents and/or venom in saliva. One owner describes a reaction from a bite:
"The bite itself hurt no more than any other monitor bite it just bled more. Within five minutes of the bite, I felt myself going slightly in to shock and this result in me throwing up (sorry for graphic detail!). I felt very shot away for the following hour (not helped admittedly by being hypo glycaemic). The swelling came up over an hour or so and a burning sensation started 30 mins or so after the bite. Several hours after the bite, the swelling had become so severe I had lost dexterity in my thumb and the two closest fingers and the joins had become very painful."
Most other non-native lizards are legal, too. Crocodilians are not.
4. American Bison
Another example of alternative livestock not banned on ordinance §671 is the American bison. These are large and powerful animals that aren't so tame but are often seen as farm animals utilized for meat and fur production. It is unclear if a permit is required for possessing bison that are only provided for agricultural purposes, which would not make them legal as pets.
5. Second Generation ‘Wolfdogs’
Wolfdogs, also referred to as wolf hybrids, are confusing to define. Almost all wolves in captivity possess the genetics of domesticated dogs to some degree and can be considered 'wolfdogs' outside of species survival programs. In addition, wolves that have been bred in captivity for generations as pets are actually on the path to domestication themselves...this can make them similar to dogs (domesticated dogs likely descend from an extinct close ancestor to modern wolves). Many zoos, including those which are accredited by the AZA, display what are actually 'high content wolfdogs'.
In California, wolfdogs that are F3 and less (F4, F5, ect.) are legal. This means that the 'wolf', most likely a high-content wolfdog but indistinguishable to most in looks and behavior, is the great grandparent to the offspring. These animals are still striking to the general public and are actually likely to be more problematic than high content/ 'pure' wolves due to their mixed bag of genetics making them less predictable. With such an identity crisis, it's a shame these mixes are the only option people have to own a legal wolfdog.
6. Large Constrictor Snakes
Some of the largest snakes in the world that possess the capacity to kill an adult human (although actual occurrences of this are rare) appear to be legal in California as they are not named on the prohibited reptile list, unlike venomous snakes and crocodilians. This includes the Burmese python, reticulated python, and green anaconda. These snakes are also unfortunately listed on the Lacey Act as injurious species, meaning they can be owned but cannot be brought over state lines. The boa constrictor is a less large species that is not on the Lacey Act and is legal in California.
Most birds are also legal in California. The only illegal parrot is the invasive monk parakeet (or Quaker parrot). Corvids such as crows and magpies are illegal, as well as birds of prey (falcons, hawks, eagles) and vultures. Mynah birds, known for their incredible ability to mimic human speech, are illegal except for the species hill mynah and Rothchild’s mynah. Other interesting species such as toucans, exotic pigeons, and hornbills are legal so those interested in aviculture can do so and enjoy the spoils of Napa Valley or giant red wood forests.
Several ungulate species are legal in California, although most are actually domesticated even though they are considered 'exotic'. They include the water buffalo, yaks, pot-bellied pigs, alpaca, and llamas.
Ratites are a group of large flightless birds that includes ostrich, emus, rhea, and cassowary, the latter being a species that is more dangerous and likely to attack than most of the illegal mammals. Ostrich are sometimes kept for pleasure but are often considered alternative livestock raised for their meat.
Venomous arthropods like scorpions and tarantulas are also legal to keep in CA, as they probably are in all states except Hawaii.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.