Ask the County Law Librarian – Exotic Animals in California
Q. My sister-in-law recently bought an animal called a sugar glider, sort of a cross between a flying squirrel and a marsupial. She said that since they’re illegal to own in CA, she had to have it shipped from another state as a “hamster” or something similar. Where can I find the California laws that list which animals are illegal to own in the state?
A. Having recently watched a documentary on the rise of exotic pet ownership in the U.S., this question isn’t very surprising. The idea of private citizens (as opposed to zoos, shelters, rehabilitation centers and the like) owning and caring for exotic animals is hardly a new trend, but it appears that technology is making it easier for the average person to acquire restricted and/or banned species. In the pre-Internet world, someone interested in owning a tiger cub would need to know the right person, have the right information on caring for and feeding the animal, etc.; nowadays, it’s a simple thing to buy a tiger online with a few mouse clicks, and the same process applies to sugar gliders. (For those of you wondering what a sugar glider is, Wikipedia has a thorough description including numerous charming photos of the marsupial in question.) And yes, sugar gliders are a prohibited species in California, meaning that it is illegal to have one as a pet, as the California Department of Fish and Wildlife writes to one aspiring hedgehog owner: http://www.dfg.ca.gov/wildlife/nongame/nuis_exo/hedgehog/index.html
You can find the laws and regulations pertaining to prohibited species both in the California Fish and Game Code beginning at Section 2118 and the California Code of Regulations, Title 14, Section 671 and 671.1. Careful readers will note that regulation 671.1 governs the issuance of permits for owning restricted animals, but according to the DFG’s statement these permits apply “only to qualified individuals or institutions for limited purposes such as research, public exhibition, or shelter. Permits are not issued to import or possess any wild animal for pet purposes.”
Laws regarding the private ownership of certain animals will vary from state to state, so be sure to conduct thorough research using the state’s codes and regulations before buying anything you think may be questionable. It’s also common for counties and cities to issue their own ordinances regarding the ownership of certain animals, and these rules may impose further restrictions such as permits and inspections. You can find some county and city ordinances for California online at http://www.municode.com/library/CA or at your local public county law library. To find the law library nearest you, visit www.publiclawlibrary.org
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