Is There a Safe Haven Law for Wildlife?

By Lisa M. Schaffer, Esq. on October 31, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

We've all seen those Safe Haven signs at Walmart and police stations, making it legal for parents to unburden themselves by dropping off their infants and giving up all parental rights and responsibilities without legal ramification. But is there a parallel for wildlife?

Gator Dropped at a San Diego Pet Store

Last week, a three foot long alligator was dropped off at the doorstep of a San Diego pet store. Game officials are coming to fetch the alligator, since the San Diego Zoo had no room left in the ol' manger. Hopefully the gator will be placed with a wildlife sanctuary. The pet shop owner was happy that the gator's former owner dropped him off instead of just releasing him into the wild, since they are a highly invasive and dangerous species. One has to wonder if the young ones are ever flushed down the toilet.

Because alligators are not allowed as pets in California, the state's Department of Fish and Wildlife is investigating. But would it serve a higher public policy to just have a Safe Haven law instead?

Exotic Pet Amnesty Program

Florida is on the leading edge of this Safe Haven concept. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has an Exotic Pet Amnesty Program just for this purpose. Events are held periodically throughout the state, and allow people to surrender their exotic pets without penalty. You can find many lurkers at these events, hoping to catch a glimpse of some rare pets. But you can also find pre-approved adopters that are looking to help the animals too. The program has rescued over 3,000 exotic pets since its inception in 2006.

Strange Wildlife Spottings Not in the Wild

Born Free USA is an organization that helps promote keeping wild animals in the wild. From time to time, they post stories that drive this point home, including:

  • An alligator found in Lake Michigan
  • An unlicensed zebra that bit off part of a man's nipple
  • An emu running loose on a Georgia highway

What Are the Laws for Owning Exotic Animals?

Exotic pet laws vary by state. Around thirty states have laws against owning exotic animals, with the rest allowing for permits, and others requiring no license whatsoever. If you'd like to own your own piece of the wild, make sure you check your state, county, and city laws to see if they allow your chosen animal, and if a license to do so is required. If you don't know where to begin, contact your state's wildlife commission or your local humane society. And if all that seems like too much work, perhaps you should reconsider that exotic pet.

Owning an exotic pet in violation of local laws can lead to criminal penalties as well as seizure and forfeiture of the animal. If you have an exotic pet, contact an criminal defense attorney in your area, one that is familiar with the applicable laws and rules. A legal professional can help you determine if you can own it, if you need a license, and maybe even how to dispose of it without criminal penalty.

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