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Illegal Animals in New York City

Updated on January 24, 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.

New York City is eclectic, noisy, and culturally diverse. It is also crowded, lacking in greenery outside of its parks, and the smell of pollutants haunts the air in the streets.

I am generally eager to exit the city soon after I’ve entered it for these reasons, but the destination hosts a much-loved challenging yet captivating urban living environment that, while overwhelming to myself, is enchanting for thrill-seekers and people lovers. The city has also been recently thrust into the spotlight for its mayor's absurd soda ban proposal which has thankfully been appealed.

My worst nightmare would be to live in the city due to the congestion alone, but as a person who loves to care for pets, including ‘alternative species’, there is a far more menacing and nonsensical element that makes New York and other cities particularly uninhabitable.

"Wild" Animals Prohibited

What do you consider to be a ‘wild animal’? New York City has a rather elaborate and comprehensive list of the animals that are defined as wild animals (Health Code 161.01) and are illegal to possess, harbor, sell or give to another person within the confines of the 5 Burroughs with the exception of certified zoological parks, laboratories, circuses and wildlife rehabilitators.

Many of the animals listed are perfectly reasonable to my admission, as I can say with certainty that no private individual can provide a decent enclosure and properly care for any animal in the family ursidae (bears), Cetacea (whales and dolphins), Pinnipedia (seals), Sirenia (manatees), and elephants (even the Bronx Zoo is having qualms about the husbandry of its elephants and is ending the exhibit when their remaining residents pass on).

These are the only animal families of which I would approve of bans for on all of the members in New York City and other similar environments. It cannot be rationally argued that every member of the banned species pose a health threat that exceeds that of the legal animals.

Unlike the soda ban that simply would have limited the sizes of soda sold, owning banned pets is only a dream to the law-abiding citizens.

Domesticated dogs on the other hand, while being collectively responsible for plentiful injuries and fatalities in New York State, enjoy protection from bans because breed specific legislation is prohibited. Dog owners will only face repercussions for their pet's misdeed (or the owner's, of course) if, and only if, an incident actually occurs.

Short-tailed opossum (marsupial)

The short-tailed opossum is deemed a dangerous wild animal because it raises its young in a pouch. Used with Permission
The short-tailed opossum is deemed a dangerous wild animal because it raises its young in a pouch. Used with Permission | Source

Meanwhile, in Manhattan....

List of Harmless Animals Banned in New York City

I have written a similar article about the audacity of all exotic pets, large and small, indiscriminately being labeled as ‘dangerous’ simply because they are unusual, not domesticated (although sometimes they even are), and make people who aren’t their owners uncomfortable with their strange looks.

More times than not there isn’t a shred of credible evidence to create laws prohibiting people from owning these animals, but the legislation easily passes because for some reason, pet ownership is not seen as a property right as it is so with dogs and cats.

In fact, there are no laws to prohibit people’s pets (cats) from infringing on my actual home property, but plenty that exist to prevent me from buying animals and keeping them privately, harming no one else (or other animals) in the process.

Animals Banned in New York City

Let’s leave the discussion about the welfare of animals kept as pets aside for a second.

None of the laws in New York City are defined as animal welfare protection laws stemming from fears that certain animals will receive poor care; these laws are a part of NYC's health code as per the Department of Health. Regardless of one's opinion of whether or not exotic pets should be owned, that has little to do with the theme of this article.

The animals listed are all deemed as dangerous. The official definition of a ‘wild animal’ in the ordinance is as follows:

wild animals are deemed to be any animals which are naturally inclined to do harm and capable of inflicting harm up on human beings and are hereby prohibited pursuant to subsection”

Let’s review which animals the code views as wild, dangerous, and inclined to inflict harm on human beings.

Does banning the fennec fox keep NYC safer?


Dogs, being domesticated, are safe for the city

“All dogs other than domesticated dogs”

Wolves, coyotes, hyenas (whoever made this list needs to crack open a book about phylogeny, because these are not canines), all sound scary and don’t belong in a New York City apartment. What’s wrong with this prohibition?

Many people are not likely to be aware that fennec foxes actually make great pets (for the right owners) and at their mature size weigh about the same as a Chihuahua. They are also probably less ‘dangerous' than one. In fact, the state of New York, while having bans on ‘wild animals’, actually explicitly states an exception for fennec foxes, and they are legal to own as pets currently.

An act of rare exotic pet acceptance perhaps? It’s likely that an ‘important person upstairs’ or their close affiliate has owned the animals and was able to put in a good word for them, further revealing the politics behind the existence of pet bans and why people must suffer (living) property rights denial because the legislators have no experience with their desired animals.

An F2 Savannah cat, beautiful, and not dangerous


All cats other than domesticated cats

Ming the tiger is probably NYC's most notorious exotic pet-related incident. The sensationalized story of a tiger that was kept as a pet in a small apartment was also featured in the Animal Planet show Fatal Attractions. Highly isolated, bizarre scenarios like this are often part of the reason exotic pet keeping is feared. Tigers and other big cats do not have a place in private ownership in any city, but the ban also restricts hybrid cats (Savannah cats, Bengals) that are mostly domesticated and are of no more danger than normal cats, but they may be more interesting.

Domesticated ferret
Domesticated ferret | Source

Let’s Talk About Ferrets

All fur bearing mammals of the family Mustelidae” means that badgers, weasels, minks, and otters are prohibited, which would seem reasonable to people, until they realize that this also includes ferrets. Yes, ferrets.

This popular domesticated animal that is legal in the rest of New York State is arguably one of the most absurd additions to the NYC ban. I believe the ferret prohibition highlights some important points about how little merit pet bans truly hold; the reason being that ferrets, unlike other exotic mammals, are very popular pets, therefore they are so numerous that the 'incidences' they cause can be compared to that of dogs and cats, which are legal animals responsible for maulings, fatalities, injuries, and environmental destruction in addition to everything else.

It was suggested that ferrets pose a danger to people, and that they would escape and roam through the walls of apartments. Such claims are easily proven false. The animals are legal in all other states except Hawaii and California (although they are kept illegally there in high numbers), and negative incidents involving them are not reported...either as an ecological menace or one that injures children. The same certainly cannot be said for dogs.

More Harmless Animals that are Illegal in the city

All carnivorous mammals of the family Viverridae

I currently own seven animals that are illegal in NYC (I live in the suburbs), and one is from this family. It is a spotted genet, which I can verify is not a threat to public safety, but may merely have the appearance of being so.

All squirrels (Sciuridae)

Includes low-maintenance exotic pets like ground squirrels and chipmunks. They are rodents that require the cage space to meet their energetic needs, but have no plans to attack fellow apartment dwellers.

Arachnida and Chilopoda

Fear of spiders and other 'creepy crawlies' does not justify the banning of these small pets that are widely owned and never provoke any issues with the people who aren't their owners.

Boa constrictor
Boa constrictor | Source
Ball python
Ball python | Source
Cnemidophorus gypsi
Cnemidophorus gypsi | Source

Reptiles (Reptilia)

any member, or hybrid offspring of the family Boidae

Irrational fear has caused the banning of the 'boid' family. Some members of this family can grow to impressive sizes, but they are not dangerous. Boa constrictors are immensely popular in the reptile trade and have only been responsible for one death, which was the owner of the animal who had the snake around his neck.

any member of the family Pythonidae

Many species of pythons are extremely popular, do not grow to huge lengths (such as seen with Burmese and Reticulated pythons), and have never caused any incidences despite their popularity. Ball pythons are the most notable member of this group, often recommended for beginners to snake keeping (although sometimes they can be finicky eaters), they are even popular with children. The animals are so common that there are many morphs available; they are about as close to domestication as a reptile can come.

any member of the family Varanidae

This group consists of the monitor lizards. There are smaller, less intimidating species such as the Spiny-tailed monitor or acanthurus dwarf monitor. They are personable insectivores that make interesting pets.

any member of the family Iguanidae

Green Iguanas are not recommended for beginners, even though they are popular with them. While this lizard is unfortunately prone to falling into the wrong hands because they are cheap and often sold in pet stores, a ban on them and the rest of the iguanid family is uncalled for. Green iguanas can get quite large, but many other species in this family are small, such as desert iguanas, chuckwallas, and members of the genus Ctenosaura.

any member of the family Teiidae

Racerunners, whiptails and tegus

Pot-bellied Pigs
Pot-bellied Pigs | Source
Sugar glider
Sugar glider

All large rodents (Rodentia)

Which includes prairie dogs. The animals did have a run in with monkey pox some years ago due to animals that were imported from the wild, but the issue has been contained and available prairie dogs as pets are all captive bred.

All even-toed ungulates

This group includes pot-bellied pigs (which are domesticated), which unlike other pig relatives that should be kept outdoors only, make good house pets for many people and could be feasibly kept in city locations. Many people in the city do keep these animals illegally. City officials allegedly claim that the animals "can become aggressive" and "cannot be vaccinated for rabies". The rabies virus kills about 4 people a year in the United States, and the majority of these minuscule cases occur in people who have visited foreign countries. The others contracted it from organ transplants or have had contact with wild animals, as an animal must be infected by another infected wild animal to contract the virus. The likelihood of a pot-bellied pig having a run in with a rabies-infected animal is a pitifully insignificant concern. Despite available vaccinations, domesticated cats are the most common pet animals found with the virus. Click here for more information about rabies and exotic pets.

All marsupials

This group of animals covers the small and harmless sugar gliders and short-tailed opossums.

Insectivorous mammals

This group covers domesticated hedgehogs.

Pets are important. They often comfort us, give us a sense of being, and just give us overall enjoyment that is often reciprocated by the well-cared for animal.

People in New York City should count their blessings that any animal remains legal for them to own. The ban appears to suggest that the city is merely allowing ownership of dogs and other popular animals because the citizens would have a cow if such a commonality were ripped away from them, and the draconian nature of the law would become more apparent. In New York City, and several other cities, towns, counties, and neighborhoods that prohibit harmless animals, pet ownership is clearly treated as an outlandish absurdity that can be at any given moment unanimously subject to strict regulation such as in the manner of firearms at the whim of an uneducated legislator, in order to comfort conventional people who find the lifestyle incomprehensible.


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    • Larry Fields profile image

      Larry Fields 4 years ago from Northern California

      Hi Melissa,

      Very informative! Voted up and interesting.

      Old saying:

      When ferrets are outlawed, only outlaws will have ferrets!

    • Melissa A Smith profile image

      Melissa A Smith 4 years ago from New York

      Thanks Larry, this law has made criminals out of many who are desperate to exercise their common sense rights.

    • Shaddie profile image

      Shaddie 4 years ago from Washington state

      I had no idea that arachnids were banned. I have never in all my life heard of an arachnid ban. That is just absurd. Spiders live absolutely everywhere, how can you ban owning a spider??? THE STUPIDITY OVERWHELMS MY BRAIN.

      And what the hell do they mean by "large rodents." Is there a definition for "largeness" vs. "smallness?" What makes a large rodent "large?" I have met guinea pigs that far outweigh prairie dogs. Are guinea pigs illegal then?

      NYC: a place I would never, ever live. I also own 7 "illegal" animals according to these idiotic standards.

    • Melissa A Smith profile image

      Melissa A Smith 4 years ago from New York

      Haha, that's true about guinea pigs. I'm sure most people in the city keep animals they can get away with, like spiders. If I were going to keep an animal illegally, it would be something that wouldn't require vet visits. I'm sure many people also keep pythons there. Vendors are just a 30 minute drive away. They basically banned any animal that could be considered 'strange' or are featured in 50's B-movies.

    • profile image

      Will 3 years ago

      This is informative and a lot of it is true but the bashing of other animals to prove a point is idiotic. You're pretty much doing the same thing other people are doing with exotic animals. To point out only a few of the bad situations with dogs and say that all the exotic animals are guilt free is both idiotic and wrong. Make your point WITHOUT bashing other animals next time and this might be taken more seriously. I have lived with and loved all kinds of animals; Ferrets, Guinea pigs, cats, dogs (pitbulls, rottweilers, and other large and small breeds) , birds, rabbits, reptiles and rodents. I'm all for exotic animal rights but don't try to get people on your side with propaganda.

    • Melissa A Smith profile image

      Melissa A Smith 3 years ago from New York

      There is no "bashing" here Will, just the truth. The animals I used as an example -are- "guilt-free" as they've killed no people in contrast to dogs. Dogs are the only pets I'm worried about being attacked by. You may not like what I said about them but if it's true, then I shall write it down. Nowhere does it say that I want dogs or any breed to be banned, but undeniably, they will always kill or hurt more people than all "exotic" animals combined (and these numbers are still relatively small). Most large animals are not consequence-free, just like driving and plenty of other activities.

    • profile image

      Person 3 years ago

      I can agree with this article! Yay! :) Yes, some of these bans are utterly ridiculous, but I do think others are ok. The banning of animals like the fennec fox makes sense to me, because if they were normal pets around the home, they would soon be gone from their natural environment. The exotic pet trade has devastating effects on natural populations of animals.

    • Melissa A Smith profile image

      Melissa A Smith 3 years ago from New York

      That it totally untrue about fennecs. Most, if not all of them that are kept as pets in this country are captive-bred in captivity just like any dog, cockatiel, or ferret. There is no significant 'trade' of wild fennec foxes to speak of. They are legal in the rest of New York state and the damaging effects are non-existent. If animals were banned because of the impacts of wild collection (they aren't, they are banned under the guise of 'public safety' or irrational fear of the unusual), then certain parrots, marine life, and small numbers of reptiles would be banned and animals like fennecs, coatimundis, wallabies, and genets would be legal.

    • profile image

      Alia 3 years ago

      You are incredibly biased. You may want an exotic pet, but that doesn't mean that you deserve to have one. The animals deserve to live in their own habitat and you have no right to take that away from them. Go find your entertainment from somewhere else, not from poor animals. I can't believe people are actually reading you and following you on this site...

    • profile image

      2 years ago

      Who is the low life laughing and making disgusting comments in the video with the tiny dog being attacked by the pit?

    • Melissa A Smith profile image

      Melissa A Smith 2 years ago from New York

      Probably the camera man.

    • Melissa A Smith profile image

      Melissa A Smith 2 years ago from New York

      @ Alia, your comment was caught in a spam filter. It was a rather unintelligent comment but it wasn't spam. I'm happy to have some open-minded followers.

    • profile image

      Destiny 2 years ago

      This was actually a great article, it really is unfortunate for so many great animals to be ban just because they are misunderstood.

    • Melissa A Smith profile image

      Melissa A Smith 2 years ago from New York

      Thank you Destiny.

    • profile image

      Sebastian 2 years ago

      Seriously, Ball Pythons are banned in NY? This sucks, as like you said in the article, Ball Pythons are ideal for snake owning beginners.

      Then again, is it still possible to find BP's in my local Pet shops? I've looked this up, and some people have managed to own BP's in the 5 buroughs, so at best, I hope it's one of those cases where it's a rule, but the authorities have more pressing matters to attend to than worrying about a RESPONSIBLE owner and his couch potato reptilian friend

    • Melissa A Smith profile image

      Melissa A Smith 2 years ago from New York

      Some people do it anyway, and I've yet to hear of any popping out of toilets and attacking babies. Same goes for ferrets in CA, people keep them, and yet ferrets are not an issue for their biodiversity.

    • profile image

      Tim 2 years ago

      The short tailed opossum do not have a pouch for their offspring. The long tailed do, however they are from Australia and are endangered.

    • profile image

      ratfuntime 2 years ago

      I can kinda of understand some of the bans.some are endangered,some(like the squirrels and large rodents)could considered local wild life,some just get to big and others breed a lot.but it's new york not florida where it would be understandable why they're ban.

      but banning is a little to extreme and permits would make more sense so the trade could be controlled.that's really the biggest issue in the pet trade especially the's largely unregulated so a lot gets past that shouldn't like animals with diseases (like chytrid it wouldn't be as far spread as it is if it wasn't for the pet trade in frogs.most frogs in the pet trade actually have chytrid)or people easily getting their hands on animal they can't care for.

      so here's what I think would be best for both parties.

      if you want an exotic that could be considered an health,public safety issue, environmental issue or have extremely specialized care/difficult to care for you must have that animal be registered so they can keep track on it.have mandatory disease checks for imported animals and random disease inspections to make sure that sick animals don't get into the trade or stay long.

      there issues solved.

    • profile image

      sam 23 months ago

      Does this law count in new rochelle, NY? I know a guy who has hundreds of pythons on a 1 br apartment...I can't believe that is legal.

    • Melissa A Smith profile image

      Melissa A Smith 23 months ago from New York

      New Rochelle is Westchester, same place I live, so no it is not. Why shouldn't it be legal? Most pythons are harmless, and the large constrictors, rare as incidents with them are, aren't legal in NY state. There is nothing wrong with hundreds of pythons. He probably breeds them and they are absurdly easy to house in large quantities. 100 cats would be a different story.

    • profile image

      Maya Angelou 21 months ago

      I agree with Alia. You have no right to take these animals out of the wild and keep them in your homes. It is selfish and cruel. And while they may be perfectly harmless, that is no reason to keep them in your house. Hard as it may be for you to believe, you may not understand the all reasoning behind this law.

    • Larry Fields profile image

      Larry Fields 21 months ago from Northern California

      Hello, Maya. You wrote:

      "Hard as it may be for you to believe, you may not understand the all reasoning behind this law."

      The ball (python) is in your court. Pray tell, what is the reasoning -- if any -- behind that law? Lets ferret out the truth on this issue. Drinking too many large sodas in the Peoples' Republic of NY, are we?

    • profile image

      Audrey Hill 21 months ago

      I happen to agree with Maya. I digress Ball Pythons are perfectly harmless. However, you blatantly ignore that fact that most are imported to the U.S. illegally. How do you justify ripping an animal away from everything it knows just so you can have a "cool" pet? Do you really believe it is worth it? As an animal lover myself, I live with two dogs in NYC. I also love traveling and seeing animals in their natural habitat. However I feel it is wrong to keep an animal who used to be free in your house. My mother runs an animal rehabilitation center in Connecticut. And I know full well how amazing those animals can be. But I have also seen the devastating effects on wild animals who have been kept as pets. As Maya said, it is cruel and selfish, and I urge you to pick a cat or dog over a monkey or a kinkajou.

    • Larry Fields profile image

      Larry Fields 21 months ago from Northern California

      Hello, Audrey. I am a dog person. But because of my neurological problems, I cannot be the responsible pet owner that I would like to be. I must be content to enjoy my friends' dogs. One such dog is Tron, the friendliest and goofiest German Shepherd on the planet.

      One of my acquaintances is a Politically Incorrect ferret owner, here in the Peoples Republic of California. Although ferrets are not my cup of tea, I do not begrudge my acquaintance's enjoyment of, and love for, these extraordinary animals. Like me, she has a Mensa-level IQ.

      I have zero respect for 'empty suits' who mindlessly label certain animals as being 'wild', as opposed to being domesticated, and who expect us to take their pious, ex cathedra pronouncements seriously.

      Shock news! Unlike some people, I am quite capable of thinking for myself, thank you. I can always see through emotional projection, including its variant, Argument from Authority. And it never impresses me. I do not suffer fools gladly.

      Here's what I DO think: All prospective pet owners should do their homework. Is that too much to ask? Do you have the right stuff to be a responsible Aardvark owner?

      If not, then go with Plan B, whatever that is. Perhaps watching Nature videos would be more realistic.

      There are also irresponsible owners of conventional pets. Whether you want to be the owner of a conventional pet, or of an unconventional pet, do it right, or don't do it at all. There are far too many dogs -- as well as other pets -- who are put down every year.

      Here's Maya's famous quote: "Hard as it may be for you to believe, you may not understand the all reasoning behind this law."

      I was calling her on the BS. She will not give us her reasoning, because she cannot. Moreover the heart-warming anecdote about your wonderful mother does not qualify as reasoning.

      I'm calling your bluff. Let's see what you have in your hand.

      I am NOT a died-in-the-wool Libertarian. I do NOT believe that regulation is a 4-letter word. I am open to that possibility. However I have seen zero -- as in zip and nada -- intelligent regulation of unusual pets. Here are 3 issues that COULD be addressed: humane care, management of risk to the general public., and management of risk to endangered species.

      Intentional and unintentional introductions of exotic animals -- including feral cats -- to Australia have had unfortunate effects on endangered native species, including some birds and small reptiles.

      Melissa has done a good job in making her argument, in a reasonable amount of space. She even provides (gasp!) specific examples. And that is much better than the broad-brush comments that you and Maya have provided. If you have something intelligent to say, then write your own bloody hub.

    • Melissa A Smith profile image

      Melissa A Smith 21 months ago from New York

      Thank you Larry, so nice to see someone who isn't an exotic pet owner make a logical conclusion in this matter.

      Audrey H, you are ignorant. Most ball pythons are captive-bred, as well as most exotic mammals. I'm not 'stealing' anything although in the past I would catch and keep bugs, frogs, ect. Nothing wrong with that when done right.

    • Melissa A Smith profile image

      Melissa A Smith 20 months ago from New York

      Maya Angelou-- I'll think of you when I get my next exotic.

    • profile image

      Maya Angelou 20 months ago

      Melissa, you are a cruel and selfish idiot. And as for you Larry the only reason why I have not responded right away to defend myself is that I have a job, and a life. I do not have infinite time to talk to idiots such as yourself. However I believe Audrey H. gave a good defense of my point.

    • Melissa A Smith profile image

      Melissa A Smith 20 months ago from New York

      I'm thinking it might be an Asian palm civet. I know its crazy since I just got two Chacoan maras, but it will be worth it.

    • profile image

      ManNewt 20 months ago

      Congrats with your maras Ms. Smith !!!

    • Melissa A Smith profile image

      Melissa A Smith 20 months ago from New York


    • profile image

      ManNewt 20 months ago

      Do they have names ?

    • Melissa A Smith profile image

      Melissa A Smith 20 months ago from New York

      Not really. I just call one white face because it has more white and it's pretty irritating.

    • profile image

      Judge Joe 5 months ago

      I stopped reading after the 3rd paragraph when the author stated, "there are no laws prohibiting a persons cat from infringing upon my property." Clearly highlighting their ignorance of the law and their shallow understanding of what is and isn't legal. Their opinion is very evidently severely clouded by their craze and obsession with animals, albeit a justified one, however, it removes credibility when from their statement when they supply false facts to bolster their point of view. Facts that a tiny bit of research would have proven to be false. Get it together.

    • Melissa A Smith profile image

      Melissa A Smith 5 months ago from New York

      You know what removes your credibility? The fact that you spent time typing a paragraph about how I'm ignorant to something that you refuse to say what the hell it is, so do so unless you're afraid it will make you look like an idiot.

    • profile image

      luca luci 4 months ago

      Hi Melisssa,

      Great article I find it very disappointing that chimps, foxes and ferrets are banned from nyc. As a high school student from queens I hoped id be able to rescue or at least foster any of these animals i'm really upset that there is nobody trying to change the laws surrounding this.

    • profile image

      anonymous 3 months ago

      so i can not own a ball python in nyc? :(

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