The List of States That Ban Exotic Animals as Pets Could Grow Soon

A 2011 tragedy in Zanesville, Ohio, that resulted in 49 escaped exotic animals being killed by law enforcement officials after they were set free by their owner, brought problems with exotic animal ownership into the national spotlight. That unfortunate incident was only one of many involving escapes and deaths.

Now, lawmakers in West Virginia are considering whether to ban private ownership of exotic animals in the state in an effort to protect both animals and people from issues associated with keeping dangerous animals as pets.

According to the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), there have been nearly 1,200 dangerous incidents involving captive big cats, bears, primates and large constrictor snakes nationwide. These incidents have resulted in 40 human deaths, including eight children, and more than 650 injuries since 1990.

Last year, lawmakers in the state passed a bill that would have banned the private possession of dangerous animals and created a board to decide which animals should be included, but it was vetoed by Governor Ray Tomblin who reportedly opposed it because of the expenses it would have incurred.

Now the state remains only one of five with no regulations concerning exotic animals, which officials still believe is a problem. Others worry the lax laws will lead to more people coming in with exotics to escape bans in other states. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, no laws mean wildlife officials in the state have no idea what type or how many exotic animals are in the state, but they’ve had escapes in the past — including alligators, a water buffalo and a lion, among others.

“We’ve had tigers, lions, and bears to escape never to be caught again or to be shot,” said Summer Wyatt, director of HSUS West Virginia. “There are multiple stories of alligators getting out and not just getting out, but being abandoned because when they get to [sic] large they are left in a waterway.”

No laws also mean there’s no way to restrict buying or breeding exotic animals, or to protect them and ensure that they’re getting proper care and being housed in appropriate enclosures. Even with enclosures that are as escape-proof as they can be, the unnatural conditions in which exotics are kept also raise serious welfare concerns. Due to their very nature, even if they were born in captivity and hand-raised, they still have their instincts and innate needs that can’t be provided for in most private settings.

Because of their nature as wild animals and serious problems associated with keeping them as pets, including their potential to spread diseases to humans, a number of organizations including the American Veterinary Medical Association, the United States Department of Agriculture, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Animal Control Association, the National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians and the American Zoo and Aquarium Association have all come out in opposition to private ownership of exotic species.

Now West Virginia’s Division of Natural Resources, Department of Agriculture and Bureau of Public Health are working together to create legislation they hope to get passed during the next legislative session.

If they’re successful this time around, the new law would create a Dangerous Wild Animal Control Board to regulate and ban certain species. Those who already own a dangerous exotic animal would be grandfathered in and allowed to keep them, as long as they register their animals and meet safety requirements. According to Wyatt, it will also help ensure proper housing and veterinary care, in addition to ensuring owners have a plan in place for what they will do with their animals in the event of a natural disaster or other problems.


Please sign and share the petition urging West Virginia lawmakers to ban exotic animals as pets.

Photo credit: Thinkstock


Jim Ven
Jim V2 years ago

thanks for the article.

Carrie-Anne Brown

signed, thanks for sharing :)

Mark Donner
Mark Donner3 years ago

Nicole the only reason anyone, Howard included, could defend such viciousness and cruelty as the "norm" is because of criminal behavior. The poaching and smuggling and extinction of species is going on exactly because the crimes that "howard" is promoting. Such crimes should not go unpunished if this earth is to survive.

Lynette Hernandez

But it is still a big grey area to ban exotic animals. You do know hamster's are considered exotic right? if it passes I can not own them anymore :/

Nicole Ha
Nicole D4 years ago

snakes, big cats, and primates, I propose reasonable regulation; require licenses, microchips, and cage inspections. But please, please leave responsible owners alone. The animals are not suffering and we love them more than anything. Do your own research that does not involve PETA or HSUS, volunteer at a zoo, visit an exotic owner. We're not the monsters that animal rights groups make us out to be.

Nicole Ha
Nicole D4 years ago

he was the sweetest thing. He hissed at the end, but he didn't bite or even attempt it--in contrast, most cats and some dogs would attempt to bite the vet at that point. My other snakes are just as nice, and I bring them into elementary schools for the kids to learn about reptiles. They've never bitten anyone, and are all very sweet. My dog (terrier mix from the pound) is nippier than my snakes. The skink is super sweet and comes to the front of the cage when he sees humans. I let the tortoise out to explore the house daily, I'll be building her a big outdoor garden when it's spring, and she is super comfortable with humans. Most exotics adapt to captivity just fine, and CAN be tamed. Even dogs, and especially cats, have their "instincts"--I know my cat used to hide under the Christmas tree, crouch down, and "attack" me when I was little.

They're also pretty much harmless, as most exotics are. They all could bite, and it would probably hurt and bleed, but it's not like they could kill me or would want to. I've gotten worse scratches from my cat. Yes, there have been 650 "injuries" since 1990, but according to the American Humane Association, there are 4.7 million dog bites and about 30 deaths each YEAR. What's more dangerous--small snakes and mammals or dogs? They clearly haven't forgot their instincts either.

To conclude: most exotics are harmless, adapt well to captivity, and well-kept. To avoid absolute idiots getting harmful exotics such as venomous sna

Nicole Ha
Nicole D4 years ago

Mark D, I seriously doubt Howard is a criminal because he believes exotics should be legal. Stop making assumptions and address the matter at hand. I'm also a liberal, though not an extremist, so stop making political rants.

I, too, am against exotic animal bans (and no, I'm not a criminal). I keep exotic reptiles--specifically, 2 corn snakes, a black rat snake, a dumeril's boa, a blue-tongued skink, and a Russian tortoise. The tortoise was a rescue and the rest were all produced in captivity by high-quality breeders. They are given the best possible care and are HAPPY. See, when reptiles are stressed, they don't eat, and all of mine eat well and enjoy being out. My snakes climb to the top of their cage when they want out, and I let them (not to roam around unsupervised, that would be unsafe, but to explore a snake-proof couch or chair).

These animals get clean water, healthy food that doesn't fight back (I feed frozen mice/rats), top-notch veterinary care, perfect temperatures controlled by thermostats, and complete safety from predators. Tell me how that's abuse. Right now, my Dumeril's boa is battling some sort of rare throat cancer. I've spent hundreds of dollars at the vet and he'll likely have surgery on Monday. In the wild, he'd be DEAD.

To those of you who think exotics are vicious and untameable, you're wrong. My boa had his mouth pried open, fluid taken from the mass at the back of his throat, given oral medication, and anti-bacterial shots, and

Phyl M.
Dai M4 years ago

Every state....every COUNTRY must ban any abusive treatment to any animal anywhere, any time!

Mark Donner
Mark Donner4 years ago

Howard H. Go back to your redneck right wing extremist site. Nobody's listening to your filthy accusing garbage here, they're interested in ethical behavior not your rants about "liberals". The only reason you could possible have making up your ludicrous stories is the one where right wing fringe who clearly have a background of serious criminal behavior fell compelled to hide them by accusing others.

Eric Hurner
Eric Hurner4 years ago

Many years ago Rick Lomba filmed the rapid desertification of Africa and its effects on wildlife. One of his main points was that we choose in favour of the sentimental, the beautiful, the exotic and forget the habitat and conditions that alone make survival also for these animals possible.

Nobody complains about the right of rats not to be poisoned when they infest our homes or workplace. Or the right to exterminate large numbers of mosquitos.

In focusing always on the sentimental, we forget to view the greater picture. Just because an animal is large and beautiful does not give it more privileges than a little ugly one, and most certainly it is the environment itself which is in danger. We can prevent such animals becoming pets, but can we really give them back their habitat?!

Until we have the actual power to do that, perhaps we should be less restrictive about zoos and other institutions that present some possibility of survival - and that includes hunting.