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10 Exotic Pets That Are Legal to Own in California

Updated on March 28, 2017
Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa is an exotic pet owner, zoo attender, and plant obsessed person and doesn't think there is anything wrong with that.

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.


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    • Donna Sundblad profile image

      Donna Sundblad 3 months ago from Georgia

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

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      AP 2 weeks 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.)

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      JV 13 days 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!

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      Kelly 2 days ago

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

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      Iris Manova Legend 34 hours ago


      T_T T-T

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