Across the United States, millions of exotic animals are kept captive in private homes and in roadside zoos and menageries. The trade in exotic animals is a multi-billion dollar industry, and exotic animals are bred, sold, and traded in large numbers.
But these animals — including, among other species, lions, tigers, cougars, wolves, bears, monkeys, alligators, and venomous snakes and other reptiles — pose grave dangers to human health and safety. By their very nature, exotic animals are unpredictable and are incapable of being domesticated or tamed.
In many states, people are allowed to keep exotic animals in their homes and backyards without restrictions or with only minimal oversight. Every year, people are attacked and injured by exotic "pets" or exotic animals in roadside zoos; some of the attacks are fatal, and children have too often been the victims. In recent years, people have been mauled by tigers, attacked by monkeys, and bitten by snakes, just to name a few of the tragic incidents involving exotic "pets" and incidents involving exhibited animals.
Compounding the risk to the public, many exotic animals are carriers of diseases, such as herpes B, salmonellosis, monkeypox, and rabies, which are communicable — and can be fatal — to humans.
Further, the conditions in which privately-owned exotic animals are kept also raise serious animal welfare concerns. Most people cannot provide the special care, housing, diet, and maintenance that exotic animals require. Many animals who have become too difficult for their owners to care for, or who have outgrown their usefulness as "pets" or profit-makers, end up languishing in small pens in backyards, doomed to live in deplorable conditions, or are abandoned or killed. A very few lucky ones are placed in genuine sanctuaries to live out the rest of their lives.
Capuchin monkey as "surrogate child"
The serious problems associated with the private exotic animal ownership have led groups as diverse as the American Veterinary Medical Association, the United States Department of Agriculture, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Animal Control Association, and the American Zoo and Aquarium Association to oppose the private ownership of certain exotic animals.
See a summary of State Laws Relating to Private Possession of Exotic Animals.