10 Exotic Pets That Are Legal to Own in California

Updated on March 28, 2017
Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa cares for a variety of exotic animals and has completed a certificate in veterinary assisting and a Bachelors Degree in Biology.

Simply put, if you like exotic pets that are mammals, stay out of California (and many others). The state is infamous among ferret enthusiasts for being one of two states that has an unshakable ban placed on the 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?’ Always do your research before acquiring any uncommon pet that some lawmaker might arbitrarily fantasize is a threat to the environment/human health/the animal itself just because the animal is not commonly owned.

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.

2. Zebra

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:

"Bite itself hurt no more than any other monitor bite it just bled more. With in five mins 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 serve i had lost dexterity of 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 ‘Wolfdog’


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.

7. Toucans


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.

8. Camels


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.

9. Ostrich


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.

10. Tarantulas


Venomous arthropods like scorpions and tarantulas are also legal to keep in CA, as they probably are in all states except Hawaii.

Questions & Answers


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    • Melissa A Smith profile image

      Melissa A Smith 6 weeks ago from New York

      Unless you mean Fingerlings the toy no, all primates are illegal. Finger monkeys don't really exist though.

    • profile image

      Madison Clark 6 weeks ago

      In California can you own a finger monkey?

    • profile image

      AP 4 months ago

      Quaker parakeets aren't actually invasive. They were banned in many states because they are agricultural pests in their native range, because they naturalize well in cities which led to a fear they would become invasive, and because their nests cause problems.

      However they have never become established outside of their native range in non-urban habitats, they don't pose a threat to native species. Many jurisdictions still hate them because of the nests, but that's a problem for humans, not our native birds.

      Furthermore, the quaker populations in the US were all established by wild imports. There is absolutely no risk of captive-bred pet quakers establishing colonies in California; the ban is as misguided and absurd as theirs ban on gerbils and slightly more absurd than their infamous ban on ferrets.

    • Melissa A Smith profile image

      Melissa A Smith 4 months ago from New York


    • profile image

      kim 4 months ago

      can i have a monitor lizard in North Carolina

    • profile image

      california damn 4 months ago

      woah woah woah. hold up. You can have a bison, a fricking ostrich, and a (I think) poisonous giant lizard. But you can't have a hedgehog?! What the f California?

    • profile image

      Unknown User 4 months ago

      You can keep all these dangerous animals but you cant keep a lemur, wth?

    • Melissa A Smith profile image

      Melissa A Smith 5 months ago from New York

      jordan peters Probably

    • profile image

      jordan peters 5 months ago

      are alpacas legal pets in california if you have a good home for one?

    • profile image

      seriously wtf 5 months ago

      so... you can own a bison, zebra, and a camel... but if you own a fennec fox they kill it. cali wtf

    • profile image

      Mewmi 8 months ago

      Why are crows/ravens illegal though, they are so smart and beautiful. True, ravens might get too big, so the same reason that we can't have hawks, but crows are like the aristocracy of city birds. Pigeons are the common man and doves are the "royals" (all show and little mind.) I'm sure some people like pigeons, doves, budgies, and keeps, but I personally consider them the goldfish of pets. A living decoration at worst, at best a nice background noise.

      However, parrots are expensive just to obtain and will likely outlive the owner, meaning they are a MUCH MUCH bigger commitment. A crow would be the perfect in-between for me.

    • profile image

      CatSquid 8 months ago

      How can we have American Bison.... but not hedgehogs... WHY UNIVERSE WHY!

      Anyways very good info

    • profile image

      Unknown girl 8 months ago

      I'm looking for a pet that's legal in California, a good size and doesn't smell. I don't want something with fur cause it will smell but my mom is afraid of animals with scales. So I need something like a sugar glider but doesn't stink!!

    • profile image

      Joe blow 9 months ago

      Hey can you have a hyena in California

    • profile image

      BOB 11 months ago

      Imagine walking into your friends and house and they have a bison.

      "he doesn't bite"

    • profile image

      Autonomous Angela 12 months ago

      In response to JV's Capuchin comment, when I was 12 right here in Riverbank California when I was 12, somehow my best friend's mother legally and with the City's knowledge owned a Capuchin. His name was T-Man because of the marking on his face and he lived as a part of the family, out of his cage all day, every day, except for bedtime. She had to hand make his diapers from huge menstrual pads (remember it was 1982, no thin Maxis then) cutting a hole in them for his tail.

      Just as an FYI, I was terrified every time I went over there, which was daily after school, because though he was affectionate and loved the family, he showed characteristics of loyalty that would parallel a dogs and would attack me every opportunity he could. Talk about leaving a 12-year-old tense and on edge! T-Man was more like a three-year-old spoiled brat just wait bing for the family to avert their eyes, even for just a moment, so he could leap on my head screaming, scratching and pulling my hair. Just that screeching alone would scare the crap out of me which would make him react even louder. Once he managed to scratch the white of my eye, which of course the "human" medical doctor wasn't too happy about, leaving me with a stupid eyepatch on and anabiotic eyedrops for weeks. I don't remember T-Man acting so severely with any of her other friends, so maybe it was just the fact that I smelled of my 5 cats, and he could sense the constant fear he had instilled in me?

      Regardless, I know they loved him and benefited tremendously having him as a part of their family, so I say if you want one, one way or another you should find away and get one.

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      Iris Manova Legend 12 months ago


      T_T T-T

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      Kelly 12 months ago

      This article is inaccurate- hybrid cats like the Bengal and Savannah are legal at all generations. So f1 and F2 is acceptable.

    • profile image

      JV 13 months ago

      Boring pets no real interaction with them! I want a Marmoset Monkey or a Capuchin! very great addition to a family but don't get me wrong I believe people should get a background check and income to have adopt one

      California is too restraint, screw Fish and Wildlife there a bunch of pansies and whiners No Pets Allowed Zone!

    • profile image

      AP 13 months ago

      Quaker parakeets aren't actually invasive. They establish feral colonies more readily than most parrot species, but they need cities to do this.

      I'm not aware of any cases of quakers spreading outside of metropolitan areas, even though much of the eastern US is climatically similar to their native habitat and was formerly home to an extinct parrot species whose niche you'd think they might fill. I'm not even aware of them spreading far into the farm country that surrounds many cities, likely because most farms only offer food a couple months of the year.

      The only problems introduced quakers pose are problems they present to humans: their nests on telephone and power lines can lead to service disruptions, and if there are farms near the cities they inhabit they may partake of the bounty, and even then pet quakers don't. All feral parrot populations I'm aware of (not just quakers) are descended from wild-caught birds who escaped en mass from trucks and pet shops. Hand-raised parrots generally cannot survive in the wild.

      California banning quakers because of concerns they might become invasive is even more absurd than them banning ferrets because they're concerned they might become invasive. At least ferrets actually became an ecological problem in New Zealand. (However New Zealand is the *only* place they became a problem, unlike New Zealand California has native land predators already adapted to California's ecology.)

    • Donna Sundblad profile image

      Donna Sundblad 16 months ago from Georgia

      Interesting. Imagine the food budget for most of them would be expensive. Good aritcle.