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Home for your Pet

Unique animals you can keep as animals in Washington point out

You’ve heard the old adage that “a dog is a man’s best friend.” What if man has a different best friend? What happens if your best friend is a squirrel, a deer or a lizard? Can they take their best friend home then?

Exotic pet regulations are in place at the federal, state and county levels. So which animals can you legally own in Washington state?

Illegal exotic pets in Washington

Federal law protects all endangered species from sale and possession. You cannot own any endangered species. The IUCN red list has a searchable database of global species and their status.

Washington state has several laws in place regarding animal ownership. You cannot take home wild animals without a permit. It is illegal in the Evergreen State to own a “potentially dangerous animal.” The definition is specified in the state code by species classification.

Because of the potential danger posed, the following animals are not lawful to own:

Potentially dangerous mammals

  • Felines: Lions, tigers, captive-bred cougars, jaguars, cheetahs, leopards, snow leopards, clouded leopards
  • Canines: Wolves, except hybrids
  • All bears
  • Hyenas
  • Rhinoceroses
  • All nonhuman primates
  • All elephants

A western rattlesnake basks in a terrarium.
A western rattlesnake basks in a terrarium. taviphoto Getty Photographs/iStockphoto

Potentially dangerous reptiles

  • All atractaspididae snakes
  • Boomslang snakes
  • All Elapid snakes, which includes cobras and mambas
  • All sea snakes
  • Water and crocodile monitors
  • All vipers
  • All crocodile species

The only exception to this regulation is animal owners who legally possessed one of the above animals before 2007, in which case the owner has a grandfathered right to own the animal for the rest of its life. The dangerous animal regulations were updated in 2007, meaning it would have been legal to own many of these animals before that.

Permits for some species may be issued for organizations, like an animal sanctuary, and qualified individuals.

It is also illegal to own animals that pose risk of rabies infection. This includes bats, skunks, foxes, raccoon and coyotes.

The Revised Code of Washington prohibits ownership of raccoons due to risk of rabies infection.
The Revised Code of Washington prohibits ownership of raccoons owing to possibility of rabies an infection. Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife

Additional state law covers “deleterious exotic wildlife,” which means wild animals that can cause damage to the local environment or native wildlife. The legal definition for deleterious exotic wildlife includes:

  • Birds in the Anatidae family (ducks, geese) and the mute swan
  • Mongoose
  • Wild boar and the similar javelina
  • Bovids: Chamois, Tahr, goats, ibexes except hircus, Barbary sheep, sheep except domestic sheep, sassabies, hartebeest, wildebeests
  • Cervids: All nonnative subspecies of red deer, all hybrids with North American elk, fallow deer, axis deer, rusa deer, sambar deer, sika deer, reindeer and roe deer

A trio of mountain goats browses in the Sunrise area of Mountain Rainier National Park in summer 2020. Some people think building a new commercial airport near the park would disturb wildlife there.
A trio of mountain goats browses in the Dawn location of Mountain Rainier National Park in summer time 2020. Some individuals think developing a new business airport close to the park would disturb wildlife there. Adam Lynn adam.lynn@thenewstribune.com

Washington Wonders: Can I own this pet?

The McClatchy Northwest Service Journalism Team has received reader inquiries about the following animals and whether ownership is legal:

  • Frilled lizard: Yes, with proper licensing
  • Ball python: Legal statewide, but check your county regulations
  • Chipmunk: Not from the wild
  • Blue electric gecko: No, they are a critically endangered species
  • Wild rabbits: No, wild animals cannot be taken home

If you have any questions about how things work in Washington state, send your queries through the form below. The Evergreen State is full of curiosities, quirks and mysteries — and we want to hear what you are wondering about.

This tale was originally posted August 15, 2023, 10:55 AM.

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