Is It Illegal To Own Endangered Species?

Is It Illegal To Own Endangered Species?

If you’re in the market for an exotic pet, you might be tempted to own an endangered species as your way to ensure that these animals are looked after in captivity, or perhaps because you’re intrigued by a specific animal that’s on the endangered species list and you would love to take it home.

But can you?

Here’s what you need to know about keeping endangered animal species as pets.

What are endangered animal species?

Animal species are considered to be endangered if they are at risk of becoming extinct as a result of a sudden, swift drop in their population numbers or a sudden loss of their natural habitat.

Examples of endangered species include Amur leopards, leatherback turtles, the Sumatran Orangutan, pangolins, and rhinos, to mention just a few.

With that in mind, let’s look at the issue of endangered animals and if they can be kept as pets.

Endangered Animals In The U.S.

Endangered Species

There are currently 719 animal species that are considered to be endangered or threatened, as National Geographic reports. In the U.S. these include the following mammals: 

  • Bat (various species)
  • Bear (grizzly bear and polar bear)
  • Wood bison
  • Woodland caribou
  • Deer (Columbian white-tailed deer and key deer)
  • Black-footed ferret
  • Fox (San Joaquin kit fox and Santa Catalina island fox)
  • Jaguar
  • Jaguarundi (Gulf Coast and Sinaloan jaguarundi)
  • West Indian manatee
  • Margay
  • Point arena mountain beaver
  • Mouse (various species)
  • Canada Lynx
  • Ocelot
  • Pocket gopher (various species)
  • Utah prairie dog
  • Sonoran pronghorn
  • Otter (Southern Sea and Northern Sea otters)
  • Florida panther
  • Seal (various species)
  • Rabbit (various species)
  • Squirrel (various species)
  • Wolf (gray wolf, Mexican wolf, and red wolf)
  • Whale (various species)
  • Sheep (various species)
  • Vole (various species)
  • Buena vista lake ornate shrew
  • Rat (Silver rice rat and kangaroo rat)

There are also many other types of animals that are endangered.

Categories include reptiles, such as various turtle and lizard species; amphibians, such as toads; birds, such as various species of owl and woodpecker; and fish, such as trout and salmon species.

What Endangered Species Can You Own?

Gepard as Pet

To know which endangered animals you can own in your state, it’s first important to know what the laws are pertaining to endangered animals in general.

  • The Endangered Species Act prohibits the owning, selling, carrying, transporting, delivering, importing, exporting, and shopping of any endangered animal species. If you’re found guilty of any of these offenses, you can expect to pay approximately $3,500 as a fine if it’s your first violation and around $13,000 if it’s your third violation.
  • The Captive Wildlife Safety Act. This act prohibits the interstate commerce of big cats such as leopards, jaguars, tigers, and lions. If you’re found guilty of violating this law, you can end up with a five-year prison sentence and a fine of approximately $500,000, as Find Law reports.

However, what makes these rules a bit complicated is that many U.S. states have their own laws when it comes to owning exotic and endangered animals as pets.

This means that in some cases you might be able to find animals that have been listed as endangered for sale to private individuals.

From the list of endangered animals that we featured earlier in this article, there are some animals that you’re allowed to own even though they are endangered.

These include the following:

Canada Lynx

Man Carrying Lynx

Although the Canada lynx is considered to be endangered, you can legally own lynxes in U.S. states such as Nevada, Alabama, Wisconsin, and North Carolina, as well as Delaware and Oklahoma.

This is because these states don’t have laws regarding big cat possession.


You can legally own ocelots in many U.S. states. These are Alabama, North Carolina, Wisconsin, and Nevada, as well as Delaware and Oklahoma.

Often it’s the case that states where you can own ocelots are the same as those that allow the possession of other wild animals.

So, if the state allows the possession of wild animals, ocelots and other wild cats are usually included by default unless otherwise stated.


If you wish to own an endangered wolf, such as a grey or red wolf, you can only do so if you live in certain counties in three U.S. states: Ohio, North Carolina, and Texas.

This is because these states don’t regulate the ownership of these types of animals on a state level, so you’ll have to check with your individual county to find out what the rules specify.

As a sidebar, sometimes it’s possible to find wolf dog hybrids that breed domestic dogs with wolves such as the red wolf.


Woman Carrying Fox

You won’t find endangered foxes for sale, but there are many other foxes to whom you can give a home. These include the red fox and fennec fox.

Foxes are legal in states such as Arkansas, Florida, Michigan, Kentucky, Nebraska, Missouri, New York, Ohio, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, Tennessee, and Wyoming, but there might be restrictions that you need to follow.

For example, these states might require pet owners to have permits for their foxes. That’s why it’s so important to always check your state rules.

Kangaroo Rat

If you like the idea of owning rodents, you’ll love the kangaroo rat because it looks like a giant gerbil.

However, these animals need specialized care as well as massive cages.

Since they’re not very friendly, they don’t make great pets and, added to the fact that they’re endangered, it’s probably best not to keep them as pets.

If you want to go ahead and purchase a kangaroo rat anyway, make sure the seller is certified by the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES).

Flying Squirrels

These animals can be kept as pets, although you might not be able to find the endangered species of them: the Carolina northern flying squirrel.

Southern flying squirrels seem to be more available.

From a legal perspective, it is legal to keep flying squirrels in the following states: Washington, Wisconsin, Texas, Tennessee, Rhode Island, New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, New York, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Missouri, Nebraska, Minnesota, Mississippi, Louisiana, Kentucky, Kansas, Iowa, Illinois, Idaho, Georgia, Connecticut, Alaska, and Arkansas.

Are Endangered Animals Worth Owning?

Holding Kangaroo Rat

It’s not always easy to find endangered animals for sale, and rightly so.

These animals need to be carefully looked after by professionals so that they are not put in further danger.

However, there are many other types of exotic animals to purchase.

For example, you won’t find a Carolina northern flying squirrel on the market but you can find many other flying squirrels that are for sale.

It’s always worth considering alternative animal species to the endangered one you’re interested in purchasing if it’s difficult to look after, as this could cause it to fall ill or die in your care.

An example is the Kangaroo Rat, which is quite challenging to own.

Instead of purchasing this endangered rodent, it makes more sense to purchase other exotic rodents that are more readily available while not being listed as endangered species, such as chinchillas and capybaras.


The laws pertaining to the possession of endangered animal species is quite unclear and often contradictory.

While there are laws in place to prohibit the possession and selling of endangered animals, state laws sometimes allow these animals to be owned, as is the case when it comes to some wild cats.

This means that it is sometimes possible to purchase animals that are on the endangered list in the U.S., such as the Canada lynx and ocelot, as you can find them from various reputable sellers and breeders.

In this article, we’ve provided you with information about what animals are endangered as well as the types of endangered animals that you can find for sale, provided that the state in which you live allows them to be owned privately.

Sometimes, the legal situation surrounding the issue of endangered pets becomes even murkier as counties within states can have their own rules.

Therefore, gaining as much information about the rules pertaining to endangered and exotic animals where you live is of the utmost importance.

While you might be allowed to own some endangered exotic pets, it’s always worth considering if this is right for you.

If the pet is quite challenging and requires many resources, it’s best not purchase it because that will only cause the animal to experience distress.

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