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exotic pets

Some states prohibit the possession of all wild or exotic animals—but most states only limit possession to certain types of wild or exotic animals. These state statutes often make exceptions for people and organizations that possess exotic animals for exhibition or scientific or educational purposes. Most states require a permit, license, or registration to possess certain wild animals. And many counties and cities also have laws and regulations that prohibit or limit the possession of wild animals.

In Texas, the regulation of possession of wild or exotic animals is relatively lenient compared to some other states. Texas does not have a comprehensive state law that prohibits the possession of all wild or exotic animals. Instead, it regulates certain species through permits and licenses. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) oversees the regulations concerning the ownership of exotic animals, which includes non-indigenous snakes and other reptiles, amphibians, birds, and mammals. Individuals may need to obtain a permit for the possession of dangerous wild animals, such as big cats, bears, coyotes, and primates, under the Dangerous Wild Animal Act. This act requires owners to register their animals with their local animal control or with the sheriff, carry liability insurance or surety bonds, and comply with housing and care standards. Exemptions are made for accredited zoos, circuses, research institutions, and educational entities. Local ordinances in various Texas cities and counties may also impose additional restrictions on the possession of exotic animals.

Texas Statutes & Rules

Texas Health and Safety Code, Section 822.101 - Definitions
This section provides definitions for terms used in the subchapter relating to dangerous wild animals.

Defines 'dangerous wild animal' to include lions, tigers, ocelots, cougars, leopards, cheetahs, jaguars, bobcats, lynxes, servals, caracals, hyenas, bears, coyotes, jackals, baboons, chimpanzees, orangutans, gorillas, and any hybrids thereof. It does not include animals kept in zoos, animal sanctuaries, wildlife preserves, or educational or medical institutions.

Texas Health and Safety Code, Section 822.103 - Registration Required
This section outlines the requirement for owners to register dangerous wild animals with their local animal control authority.

Owners of dangerous wild animals must register the animal with the local animal control authority. The registration must include a photograph and description of the animal, the address where the animal is kept, and proof of liability insurance or surety bond.

Texas Health and Safety Code, Section 822.105 - Standards for Keeping Dangerous Wild Animals
This section sets forth the standards for the care and keeping of dangerous wild animals.

Owners of dangerous wild animals must ensure the animals have proper housing, care, and restraint. They must also have an escape recovery plan and cannot allow the animal to roam freely. Local authorities may inspect the premises where the animal is kept to ensure compliance.

Texas Health and Safety Code, Section 822.111 - Offense; Penalty
This section describes the penalties for failing to comply with the subchapter on dangerous wild animals.

A person commits an offense if they own a dangerous wild animal without a registration certificate or fail to comply with the standards for keeping such animals. The offense is a Class C misdemeanor, which may result in a fine.

Texas Parks and Wildlife Code, Chapter 43, Subchapter A - Commercial Nongame Permits
This subchapter governs the possession and sale of nongame wildlife, which can include certain exotic species.

Individuals or businesses that wish to possess, transport, or sell nongame wildlife for commercial purposes must obtain a permit from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. The department sets regulations regarding the care and treatment of these animals.

Texas Parks and Wildlife Code, Chapter 43, Subchapter V - Possession of Certain Wild Animals
This subchapter provides regulations on the possession of certain wild animals that are not considered dangerous wild animals under the Health and Safety Code.

This subchapter outlines the species of wild animals that may be possessed under a permit, including their transportation and sale. It also specifies the qualifications required to obtain such a permit and the duties of permit holders.

Federal Statutes & Rules

Lacey Act (16 U.S.C. §§ 3371–3378)
The Lacey Act is relevant because it addresses the trafficking of illegal wildlife, fish, and plants, which can include wild or exotic animals.

The Lacey Act makes it unlawful to import, export, sell, acquire, or purchase fish, wildlife, or plants that are taken, possessed, transported, or sold in violation of U.S. or Indian law, or in interstate or foreign commerce involving any fish, wildlife, or plants taken, possessed, or sold in violation of State or foreign law. The law covers all fish and wildlife and their parts or products, plants protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), and those protected by State law. Violations can result in misdemeanor or felony charges, including penalties and forfeiture of the animals and any vessels or vehicles used to transport them.

Endangered Species Act (ESA) (16 U.S.C. §§ 1531–1544)
The ESA is relevant because it provides for the conservation of species that are endangered or threatened throughout all or a significant portion of their range, which can include exotic animals.

The Endangered Species Act provides a program for the conservation of threatened and endangered plants and animals and the habitats in which they are found. It prohibits the unauthorized taking, possession, sale, and transport of endangered species. The Act also provides authority to acquire land for the conservation of listed species, using land and water conservation funds. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service maintains a list of endangered and threatened wildlife and plants. The ESA requires permits for any activity that involves the taking of endangered species and has provisions for the issuance of these permits for scientific purposes or to enhance the propagation or survival of the affected species.

Animal Welfare Act (AWA) (7 U.S.C. §§ 2131–2159)
The AWA is relevant because it sets minimum standards for the care and treatment of animals bred for commercial sale, used in research, transported commercially, or exhibited to the public, which may include some exotic animals.

The Animal Welfare Act regulates the treatment of animals in research, exhibition, transport, and by dealers. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is responsible for enforcing the AWA. The law requires that minimum standards of care and treatment be provided for certain animals bred for commercial sale, used in research, transported commercially, or exhibited to the public. This includes licensing and registration of individuals and entities that fall under these categories, as well as regular inspections to ensure compliance. Exotic animals that are exhibited to the public, such as in zoos or educational exhibits, may fall under the purview of the AWA.

Wild Bird Conservation Act (WBCA) (16 U.S.C. §§ 4901–4916)
The WBCA is relevant because it limits or prohibits imports of exotic bird species to ensure that their wild populations are not harmed by international trade, which can affect the possession of certain wild or exotic birds.

The Wild Bird Conservation Act aims to promote the conservation of exotic bird species by encouraging wild bird conservation and management programs in countries of origin, ensuring that imports of exotic birds into the United States do not harm them. The Act generally restricts the importation of exotic birds covered by the CITES and those that are or may be harmed by trade. Permits may be issued for scientific research, zoological breeding or display, cooperative breeding, and personal pet purposes under strict regulations. The Act also provides for the establishment of a list of approved species that are not subject to import restrictions under certain conditions.

Captive Wildlife Safety Act (CWSA) (16 U.S.C. §§ 3371–3378)
The CWSA is relevant because it amends the Lacey Act to prohibit interstate commerce of big cats, such as lions and tigers, which are considered exotic animals, unless certain exceptions are met.

The Captive Wildlife Safety Act amends the Lacey Act to address the growing concern over the safety and welfare of big cats, which are often kept as pets. The Act prohibits the interstate and foreign commerce of any live lion, tiger, leopard, cheetah, jaguar, or cougar species, or any hybrid of such species, except by qualified individuals and facilities that are licensed or registered under the Animal Welfare Act. The law is intended to prevent the exploitation and improper private possession of big cats, which can pose a threat to public safety and the welfare of the animals themselves. Exemptions are provided for certain entities, such as wildlife sanctuaries, accredited zoos, and state universities.

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