Wild Animals Not Meant to be Pets

Trish Consunji: 916-649-0599 (California Veterinary Medical Association)



Sacramento, CA – While you may be fascinated with the baby alligators you saw on vacation, tempted to get a Carolina snapping turtle into your backyard pond or intrigued by the beauty of the petite Quaker parakeets, buyer beware! Along with chimps, hedgehogs and gerbils, these animals are not legal as pets in California. You may be able to purchase them in other states, over the Internet or even locally, but the California Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) warns that you could be putting your health, your family’s health and the wild animal’s health in danger, as well as breaking the law.

Though alligators and crocodiles may be small when people get them, despite what some unscrupulous sales pitches claim, they do not remain that way or do well living in your bathtub oasis. They grow and grow, reaching lengths up to 15 feet with weights as high as 1,200 pounds. There is no such thing as a miniature, harmless alligator or crocodile. Even the smallest African Dwarf crocodile, needing a steady diet of fish, frogs, birds and small mammals, reaches about four feet in length and 40 pounds, posing clear problems for a well-intentioned owner.

There are less obvious but no less serious concerns surrounding ownership of other reptiles and amphibians. Many readers will remember the very small turtles, some with colorfully painted shells, sold years ago throughout California as the “perfect pet” for young children. Today, the sale of turtles with shells less than four inches in length is outlawed for your protection. Virtually all reptiles carry Salmonella bacteria, and while these germs may not pose a threat to the turtles, humans, especially children, are susceptible to illness from such exposure, as are other animals. According to the Centers for Disease Control, each year 93,000 reported cases of Salmonella infection result from both direct and indirect contact with reptiles or amphibians. For this reason, the state imposed a ban on the sale of the small turtles, which children were especially prone to handle.

CVMA past-president Ron Faoro, DVM, says there are more than human health concerns to take into consideration when looking at wild or exotic pet ownership. “Many of these creatures have special nutritional, environmental and social needs that cannot be duplicated in captivity,” he says.

Importing some species poses a threat to area ecosystems. While Peruvian Quaker parakeets, which are illegal in California, sound like good house pets, they are not domestic birds. Those released out of doors in the United States have been known to raid crops, leading to their ban in many agricultural states.

Most people can figure out why the African lion made the state’s list of animals you don’t just bring home to play with the kids, but the CVMA suggests you check with the California Department of Fish and Game to learn what other animals are illegal in the state. “If your main concern is animal health and well-being, you will leave the wild in the wild,” urges Faoro.

To access past CVMA press releases, visit the CVMA Media Center in the News Room at


The California Veterinary Medical Association is the largest state veterinary medical association in the United States, with more than 7,000 members. Founded in 1888, its mission is to serve its membership and community through innovative leadership and to improve animal and human health in an ethically and socially responsible manner.

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