What Exotic Animals Are Legal in California? Can You Own One?

Is it just me, or does California have some of the toughest laws regarding exotic pet ownership? 

If you consider an exotic pet, check out this list of crazy, strange, wacky, and weird animals that are legal and illegal to own in California.

List of Legal Exotic Pets in California

person approving of something

According to the Legal Information Institute(1) (LII), an exotic animal is defined as “any animal not identified in the definition of “animal” provided in this part that is native to a foreign country or of foreign origin or character, is not native to the United States, or was introduced from abroad.

This term specifically includes animals such as, but not limited to, lions, tigers, leopards, elephants, camels, antelope, anteaters, kangaroos, and water buffalo, and species of foreign domestic cattle, such as Ankole, Gayal, and Yak.”

Below is the full list of legal pets in California:

  1. Alpacas & Llamas
  2. American Bisons– American Bisons, are species of bison (large bovines) native to North America. Even though they are large and powerful, they are one of the exotic animals you can own.
  3. Asian Water Buffalos
  4. Bearded Dragons
  5. Camels
  6. Chameleons
  7. Chinchillas
  8. Chinese Water Dragons– AKA Asian Water Dragons. Chinese Water Dragons are a breed of lizards native to Southern China and Southeast Asia. They range in color from light green to dark green with vertical, slanted green or turquoise stripes on their bodies. Also, they have a blend of orange, peach, and yellow on their throat and have a pale yellow or white belly.
  9. Desert Tortoises– According to the California Turtle & Tortoise Club (3), California’s law states that a permit is needed to possess a Desert Tortoise and any other species of Gopherus such as a Texas Tortoise or a Gopher Tortoise.
  10. Geckos
  11. Guinea Pigs
  12. HamstersAre hamsters illegal in California? It depends on the species of hamster. While there are nineteen officially recognized hamster species, only five are commonly kept as pets. They include Campbell’s Dwarf Hamster, Chinese Hamster, Roborovski Dwarf Hamster, Syrian Hamster, and Winter White Dwarf Hamster. The only legal ones in California are the 3 Dwarf species and the Syrian. Chinese Hamsters are illegal in the state.
  13. Hybrid Cats– Hybrid cats are legal in California because they are technically domesticated animals. The most common hybrid cats are Bengal Cats (domesticated cat breed created from hybrids of domestic cats, especially the Spotted Egyptian Mau with the Asian Leopard Cat) and Savannah Cat (hybrid cat breed that is a cross between a Serval Cat and a Domestic Cat).
  14. Jellyfish– There are about two hundred species of jellyfish around the world. The most common species kept as pets is Moon Jellyfish, clearly identified by their translucent, moonlike bell.
  15. Large Constrictor Snakes– Non-venomous constrictor snakes are legal in California, including Green Anacondas (grow to an average of 20 to 30 feet long and weigh more than 550 pounds), Burmese Pythons (grow to an average of 16 to 23 feet long and weigh up to 200 pounds), Reticulated Pythons (grow to an average of 20 feet long and weigh an average of 150 pounds) and Boa Constrictors (grow up to 13 feet long and weigh more than 100 pounds).
  16. Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches– Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches are one of the largest species of cockroaches, reaching lengths of 5 to 7.5 centimeters at maturity. While they are legal to own in California, they cannot be shipped to California from other states unless the shipper permits them.
  17. Mice
  18. Monitor Lizards– Monitor Lizards are large lizards with long necks, powerful claws & tails, and well-developed limbs. They are native to Africa, Asia, and Oceania.
  19. Ostriches
  20. Peacocks
  21. Pot-Bellied Pigs
  22. Pygmy Goats– Pygmy Goats are a small breed of domestic goats.
  23. Rats
  24. Scorpions
  25. Tarantulas
  26. Toucans
  27. Wolfdogs– (AKA Wolf Hybrids)- A wolfdog is a cross between a domesticated dog with either an Eastern Wolf, an Ethiopian Wolf, a Gray Wolf, or a Red Wolf. Pure Wolves and first-generation (F1) wolfdogs are illegal in California, but all others are legal. The number that follows the letter F indicates how many generations away from a pure wolf the wolfdog is. For instance, a first-generation (F1) wolfdog means that either the mom or the dad is a pure wolf to the wolfdog and a second-generation (F2) wolfdog means one of the grandparents is a pure wolf to the wolfdog.
  28. Yaks
  29. Zebras– All members of the Equidae family are legal in California. This includes donkeys, horses, and zebras.
  30. This ends the list of legal pets in California.

Check out this video for a quick recap of legal exotic pets in California.

List of Illegal Exotic Pets in California

person not allowing someone to enter

Did you know that compared to other states, California has far more laws regarding pet ownership?

That’s why it’s important for you to be aware of the legal status of an animal before taking it in as a pet.

Here’s a list of illegal exotic pets in California.

  1. African Clawed Frogs
  2. Alligators & Crocodiles
  3. Anteaters
  4. Armadillos
  5. Axolotls– Axolotls are an aquatic species of salamanders with tiny eyes and no eyelids. They are illegal to have in California because they are an endangered species.
  6. Bats
  7. Big Cats– Big Cats (Cheetahs, Cougars, Jaguars, Leopards, Lions, and Tigers) are illegal to own in California because they are large powerful animals capable of severely injuring or killing humans. More specifically, these cats endanger people who live in the home and around the property and people living in the neighborhood, and first responders who are not equipped to manage a big cat who may have escaped.
  8. Bushbabies
  9. Caimans– Caimans are one of several species of reptiles from Central America and South America. They are closely related to alligators.
  10. Capybaras– Capybaras are giant cavy rodents considered the largest living rodent. Adults weigh 77 to 150 pounds, stand about 20 to 25 inches high, and measure 3.5 to 4.4 feet long. They are native to South America.
  11. Chipmunks
  12. Degus– Degus are small, burrowing rodents native to Central Chile and Northern Chile.
  13. Elephants
  14. Ferrets
  15. Foxes
  16. Gerbils
  17. HedgehogsAre hedgehogs illegal in California? According to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (2) (CDFW), all 17 species of hedgehogs are restricted from being possessed as pets because they can become pests when introduced into the wild, where they don’t naturally occur.
  18. Kangaroos– Kangaroos are only legal to keep as pets in thirteen states,/ and California is not one of them.
  19. Kinkajous– Kinkajous are tropical rainforest mammals that are related to raccoons. These critters are not legal in California because they are considered wild animals and are not native to the state. Kinkajous are native to Central America and South America.
  20. Komodo Dragons
  21. Lemurs
  22. Minks
  23. Moles
  24. Monkeys– In California, monkeys can only be owned, with a permit, by qualified individuals, such as those training monkeys to perform in movies and on television or for use in medical research.
  25. Opossums
  26. Otters
  27. Owls– According to the International Owl Center (4), private individuals in the United States cannot keep owls as pets. However, “they may only be possessed by trained, licensed individuals while being rehabilitated, as foster parents in a rehabilitation facility, as part of a breeding program, for educational purposes, or certain species may be used for falconry in some states.”
  28. Prairie Dogs– Prairie Dogs are illegal in California to protect agriculture, natural resources, public health & safety, and wildlife.
  29. Quaker Parrots– AKA Monk Parrots- Quaker Parrots are small bright green birds with gray breasts and a yellow belly. They are illegal in the state because they are deemed an invasive species since they are native to South America, specifically Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, and Paraguay. Also, California views Quaker Parrots as an agricultural threat because they can breed quickly. These parrots can lay as many as six clutches (groups) of eggs each year, with each clutch having between 5 to 12 eggs.
  30. Raccoons
  31. Skunks
  32. Sloths– Sloths are illegal in California to prevent the depletion of populations in the wild. Six species of sloths currently exist and two of them are considered endangered- the Pygmy and the Maned (both of them are three-toed sloths).
  33. Squirrels
  34. Vultures
  35. Weasels – This ends the list of illegal pets in California.
  36. Sugar GlidersAre sugar gliders legal in CA? No, they are illegal to own as pets in the state. Watch this video for further details

Do You Need An Exotic Pet License In California?

dog holding a california license for animals

If you live in the great state of California, you need to know that if you want to own certain exotic pets you will need to obtain an exotic animal license (aka exotic pet license).

This is a requirement established by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) and all pet owners should be aware of them.

According to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (5), permits are required for every person who imports, exports, transports, or possesses any restricted animal listed in Title 14, Section 671 of the California Code of Regulations (CCR).


Can I own a monkey in California with a permit?

monkey chilling around

Yes, if you are a qualified individual.

Can you own a Caiman in California?


Can I own a tiger in California?

tiger chilling around

No. Big cats are illegal in the state.

Are zebras legal in California?


Are chinchillas legal in California?


Are Axolotls legal in California?

axolotls chilling around

No. They are considered endangered.


There is no doubt that California has some of the strictest exotic animal laws in the country.

This is done not only to protect the residents of the state but also to protect certain animal species.

However, there is a lengthy list of legal pets in California. So, what exotic animals are legal in California? The list above highlights twenty-nine legal animals you can own.

What Exotic Animals Can I Own in California

Let us know what your thoughts are about California’s Laws regarding exotic animals down below!


1. 9 CFR § 1.1 – Definitions. [Internet]. LII / Legal Information Institute. Available from: https://www.law.cornell.edu/cfr/text/9/1.1

2. Why can’t I have a hedgehog, sugar glider, ferret, or other restricted, non-native species as a pet in California? [Internet]. wildlife.ca.gov. Available from: https://wildlife.ca.gov/living-with-wildlife/restricted-pet-species

3. Connor M. CTTC – California’s Permit System for Desert Tortoises [Internet]. tortoise.org. 2017 [cited 2022 Apr 28]. Available from: https://tortoise.org/general/permit_rev.html

4. Owls as Pets [Internet]. International Owl Center. Available from: https://www.internationalowlcenter.org/owlsaspets.html

5. Restricted Species Permits [Internet]. wildlife.ca.gov. [cited 2022 Apr 28]. Available from: https://wildlife.ca.gov/Licensing/Restricted-Species


Deanna is a passionate animal lover. She is the mom of several guinea pigs and sugar gliders.
When she’s not writing, Deanna loves listening to country music, or watching Dancing With The Stars.
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