Animals That Are Illegal to Own in New York City
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.
Many Bans Are Out of Place
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.
- WHY Would Someone Want an Exotic Pet? A Personal Perspective
The answer to the question: why does someone need to own an exotic pet? Why can't they just get a cat or dog?
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.
1. “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.
2. 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.
3. 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.
- Ferret Ban in New York City
Why are ferrets banned in New York City?
More Harmless Animals That Are Illegal in the City
4. 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.
5. 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.
6. 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.
7. 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.
8. 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.
9. 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.
10. 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.
11. Any member of the family Teiidae
Racerunners, whiptails and tegus
- What is an Exotic Pet?
When people say "wild animals are not pets", which animals are they referring to? What is an exotic or wild pet? It is a much broader category than most people realize.
12. 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.
13. 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.
14. All marsupials
This group of animals covers the small and harmless sugar gliders and short-tailed opossums.
15. Insectivorous mammals
This group covers domesticated hedgehogs.
Why It Matters
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 subject to strict regulation at any moment at the whim of an uneducated legislator, in order to comfort conventional people who find the lifestyle incomprehensible.
More From This Author
- What to Say to People Who Are Against Exotic Pet Ownership
How should you respond to people who think your pets are ethically unacceptable because they aren't domesticated?
- How to Care for a Pet Tiger
This is a serious guide for inquiring minds about the responsible ownership of big cats. Obviously, it isn't for everyone, but with financial means and experience, it can be done (if it is legal).
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.