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Which Animals Are Illegal to Own in California?

Posted by Dmitry Gorin | Oct 09, 2023

As a state recognized for its rich biodiversity, California has one of the most stringent laws regarding what kinds of animals can be owned as pets.

The restricted pet list is long and includes numerous species permitted to be owned in other states. You could face steep fines and criminal charges if you violate these animal ownership laws.

Which Animals Are Illegal to Own in California?
California has a long exhaustive list of animals that are illegal to own, such as monkeys.

All states seem to have unique and seemingly odd laws that are sometimes considered unworthy or senseless. This is undoubtedly true in California, which is infamous for such laws.

Simply put, California has some strict laws about which pets are permissible to own and keep. There are some reasons for prohibiting some popular pets from the state, such as the danger to native wildlife or people if they escaped.

As you browse through the list below, many curious animals are banned. Others are obvious, such as lions, tigers, and bears. While it does not always make sense, remember there are reasons. People who are exotic pet enthusiasts are most likely to have issues with the list.

California Fish and Game laws make it a misdemeanor crime to keep as a pet any animal that is endangered or considered a threat to public health and safety or native fish, wildlife, or agriculture.

Notably, however, it's rare for someone to be prosecuted for illegally possessing exotic animals in California. In most cases, the unlawful pet would be taken away from you. Depending on the species, your unlawful pet would be rehabilitated, released into the wild, sent to a particular care facility, or euthanized.

Overview of California's Prohibited Animal Laws

Under the California Code of Regulations (CCR) Title 14, Section 671 (Possession of Wildlife), it is illegal to keep as pets many species that are categorized as "exotic animals"—that is, animals other than cats, dogs and fish that are not generally kept as pets. Enforcement of the rules is administered by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW).

In California, the ownership of several species is prohibited. The rationale behind these restrictions is based on four essential criteria:

  • Public Safety: Some animals pose a direct threat to human safety. Large predators can be particularly dangerous if improperly housed or handled.
  • Environmental Protection: Many prohibited species are not indigenous to California. They could disrupt local fragile ecosystems if they were to escape or be released into the wild. Many exotic animals are considered "invasive species" because they can reproduce quickly in the wild with few natural predators.
  • Disease Control: Some animals may carry diseases that can be transmitted to humans or other animals, posing a significant health risk.
  • Endangered Species: Finally, some animals are classified as endangered; therefore, it is illegal to keep them in captivity.

What Commonly Kept Exotic Animals Are Prohibited in California?

Thousands of species are prohibited as pets in California—too many to list them all. However, let's begin with some of the more common animals allowed as pets in other states that are against the law in California:

  • Ferrets: Despite being popular pets in many states, they are not allowed in California due to concerns about escaping and establishing feral populations, which could potentially harm local wildlife.
  • Hedgehogs: These small, cute, spiked creatures are popular as pets in other states, made more so by the game character Sonic, but there are concerns in California that they would proliferate in the wild if they were to escape, disrupting local ecosystems. Their quills can also penetrate human skin and are known to carry diseases like salmonella and ringworm. 
  • Monkeys: Monkeys are kept as pets in some states but banned in California. Monkeys and chimpanzees can be unpredictable and may risk public safety. They also have the potential to transmit diseases to humans. They are considered an undesirable menace to native California wildlife and agriculture.
  • Quaker Parakeets: Also known as Monk Parakeets, these birds are illegal in California due to their tendency to create large, disruptive nests and their potential to out-compete native bird species.
  • Large Cats: Animals like lions, tigers, and cougars are illegal because they threaten public safety.
  • Gerbils: While highly popular as pets in other states, gerbils pose a threat, especially to California's ecosystems, if they escape. While the desert is their natural habitat, gerbils are non-native to California, and feral colonies of escaped gerbils could cause extensive damage.
  • Squirrels: Despite their natural proliferation in California, squirrels are not allowed as pets in California due to concerns about disease transmission, along with the fact that they will chew anything and can be very destructive inside the home if they are loose.

What are Examples of Other Prohibited Species?

While not an exhaustive list, here's an overview of other animal species that cannot be kept as pets in California:

  • Sugar Gliders;
  • African Clawed Frogs;
  • Toads;
  • Salamanders;
  • Crayfish;
  • Snails;
  • Alligators and Crocodiles;
  • Capybaras;
  • Bears;
  • Lions;
  • Tigers;
  • Raccoons;
  • Bats;
  • Marsupials (e.g., mongoose, kangaroo);
  • Falcons;
  • Other birds, mammals, and amphibians are classified as "wild animals."

What Are the Exceptions to the Rules?

As with most rules, California law does permit certain exceptions. The CDFW will issue special permits to keep certain restricted animals for specific purposes such as research, exhibitions (e.g., zoos, shows), and other reasons. However, these permits are not issued for the purpose of keeping these animals as pets.

What Are the Consequences for Violations?

If law enforcement discovers you are keeping an illegal animal, you could be subject to financial and legal consequences. Specifically, you could face any/all of the following:

  • The animal will likely be removed from your care;
  • You may be required to cover the cost of boarding, rehabilitating, relocating, or euthanizing the pet;
  • You may be fined between $500-$10,000 (in addition to the costs above), and
  • You could face misdemeanor criminal charges punishable by up to 6 months in jail.

Contact our California criminal defense lawyers to review the case details if you are accused of violating Penal Code 597 PC animal abuse and cruelty laws. Eisner Gorin LLP has offices in Los Angeles, CA.

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About the Author

Dmitry Gorin

Dmitry Gorin is a licensed attorney, who has been involved in criminal trial work and pretrial litigation since 1994. Before becoming partner in Eisner Gorin LLP, Mr. Gorin was a Senior Deputy District Attorney in Los Angeles Courts for more than ten years. As a criminal tri...

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