The Weirdest Animals You Can Legally Own In The US

Exotic animals are fascinating, but owning something just because it's lovely or intriguing can be unwise. Sometimes, keeping exotic pets works out, but these animals are often taken out of their natural habitat, and it ends up hurting them. Depending on the animal and the area in which you live, you may legally be able to own a bizarre pet. But should you have them? Well, that's another matter entirely, left up to you and your conscience.

Animal ownership laws vary wildly state-to-state, which only serves to complicate an already complex issue. Certain state laws include specific regulations permitting or prohibiting a species, but local laws can supersede state rules and make allowances. And some exotic animals have been successfully domesticated over the years, which bodes well for anyone looking to adopt one of these rare pets. In certain instances, exotic animal owners have even been able to utilize strange pets as service animals

For all the aspiring bizarre pet owners out there, learn which of the weirdest pets people can legally own. 

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  • Alligator

    Alligator
    Photo: Shutterstock

    The American alligator is native to Florida, Louisiana, and other parts of the American South. Whether you can legally own a gator is determined by the laws in these regions. In Florida, for instance, you can have an alligator after obtaining a license to do so from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Service. Not surprisingly, alligators must have suitable enclosures that give them room to roam comfortably and enough water to submerge themselves completely.

    Given the responsibilities involved, it's not uncommon for state or local animal welfare agencies to perform random, unannounced checks on the wellbeing of alligators living in private homes.

  • Capybara
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    Not many people are aware of the capybara, but it's the largest rodent in the world. Native to South America, these animals are surprisingly tame, but that alone isn't a valid reason to adopt one.

    Capybaras are pack animals, so owning just one is not advised. Also, they're massive animals that require a lot of space and food, making them indoor-averse creatures. Legalities differ from state to state, but both Texas and New York allow residents to own capybaras legally. 

  • Serval
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    Servals are native to specific sub-Saharan regions of Africa. They look like a big domestic feline, and it's probably this oversized house cat appearance that makes people think of them as ideal pets. Servals are wild cats, though, and numerous risks and considerations need to be assessed before purchasing one.

    Servals are a member of the order Carnivora, and state laws vary wildly when it comes to keeping these types of animals. They can't be legally owned in Ohio, but residents in Texas, Tennessee, and several other states are permitted to have them.

  • Wallaby

    Wallaby
    Photo: Shutterstock

    When it comes to the cuteness factor, wallabies are up there with fennec foxes. Native to Australia and its surrounding islands, wallabies are marsupials similar to kangaroos but generally smaller. They love to run around, so they must have an enclosure that gives them plenty of space and coverage.

    In recent years, wallabies have emerged as therapy and service animals; one therapy wallaby even stole the show at a 2015 sporting event. The laws determining where wallaby ownership is legal are complicated, but New York and Montana allow them. Regardless, contact your local wildlife board before planning to adopt one. 

  • Kinkajou
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    Kinkajous are mammals native to the rainforests of Central and South America. People have said the creatures look like a cross between a monkey and a ferret. They are solitary, vocal animals with a penchant for honey, which is where their nickname "honey bear" comes from. Considered exotic pets, most states regulate ownership or outright ban it. And keeping one of these creatures is a serious undertaking since most US states are unable to replicate a rainforest environment.

    Special precautions must be taken to ensure a pet kinkajou has all it needs to live a long and healthy life. Oh, and they do live long lives: up to 40 years in captivity, making them a considerable commitment. 

  • Chimpanzee
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    Out of all the animals in the world, chimpanzees are perhaps the most closely aligned with humans. We share 96% of our genetic makeup with chimps. In several states, like Alaska and Texas, you must obtain a license to keep a chimp, while others outright ban owning the primates. Many other states don't have chimp-specific laws on the books, but it's always wise to check with your local wildlife service before adopting one.

    Living with a chimp is a big commitment. These fascinating creatures, native to sub-Saharan Africa, can live well over 50 years and require just as much care and attention as humans. And while chimps aren't typically suited for life as a service animal, some breeds of monkeys are.