Most states limit the type of exotic animals that individuals can own. This is partly for the safety of residents, since many exotic species – think lions, tigers and alligators – could be uncomfortable neighbors. But regulations are increasingly for the protection of wildlife populations and to provide animals with the right to live an independent, natural existence in the wild.
Nevada laws and regulations describe the legal rights, responsibilities and penalties involved with owning or keeping exotic pets in the state. A 2021 amendment to the statutes put more teeth into the protections the state offers exotic animals from private ownership.
Note that many additional pet ownership laws are enacted on a county level. The city of Las Vegas, Henderson County and Clark County may have more restrictive animal ownership laws than the state of Nevada.
Dangers of Exotic Animal Ownership
Many stories circulate about the dangers of exotic animals coming into contact with humans. These range from Yellowstone National Park bison charging and tossing tourists who get closer than the laws allow to dangerous snakes escaping captivity and threatening neighbors. Every week or so one reads about an animal in captivity that turns on its "trainer" and injures them.
But regulating the captivity of "exotic" animals has a deeper moral purpose than simply protecting the health and welfare of the public. As the world evolves, people are paying more attention to the health and welfare of species in captivity in zoos as well.
Exotic animals, whether captured from the wild or bred in captivity for profit or amusement, are placed in environments where they languish, and in situations and on sites that do not satisfy their instinctive behavioral and physical needs.
Nevada State Laws on Domestic Animals
The Nevada Code NRS Section 193.021 describes animals considered pets in the state as including “dogs, domestic animals and birds.” These creatures are considered the personal property of the pet owner in the state of Nevada that cannot be taken from them absent some agreement between the current owner and a potential future owner.
While the statute doesn't provide any protections for these domestic animals, the state does have more than one animal cruelty statute that makes animal abuse a criminal offense.
Other animals that are legal to keep in the state include:
- Non-indigenous house finches.
- Mynah birds.
- Domesticated races of rats and mice.
- Guinea pigs.
- Monkeys and other primates.
- Aquarium fish.
- Felines except mountain lions and bobcats.
- Wolves that are lawfully acquired or bred in captivity.
- European ferrets.
- American buffalo, or bison.
- Marine mammals.
- Nonvenomous, non-indigenous reptile species and subspecies.
- Albino forms of indigenous reptile species.
- Guinea fowl.
- Old World species of pheasants, partridges, quails, francolins, peafowl and jungle fowl, except Chukar partridges, Hungarian partridges, snow cocks, and ring-necked and white, winged pheasants.
- Domesticated turkeys.
- Domesticated races of ducks and geese.
- Domesticated races of chinchillas.
- Coturnix quail.
- Saltwater fish, crustaceans and mollusks.
- Non-indigenous species of amphibians except bullfrogs.
- African pygmy hedgehogs.
- California king snakes that do not have between their head and vent a continuous pattern of bands or rings regardless of whether the bands or rings are opened or closed.
Exotic Animal Ownership Banned
Nevada bars ownership of some exotic species of animals. The importation, transportation or possession of any of the wild species listed in NAC Section 503.110 is prohibited. These include various types of fish, reptiles, birds and mammals. The latter category includes diverse animals ranging from raccoons to meerkats; from coyotes, raccoons and skunks to ibis, chamois, tahr and wildebeests.
Nevada's Animal Abuse Laws
Animal cruelty and abuse is a criminal offense in Nevada under NRS Section 574.100. This applies to all animals, domestic and exotic; those belonging to the perpetrator as well as those belonging to a third party.
Anyone charged with a first offense under this law usually is convicted of a misdemeanor. This carries a sentence of up to six months in jail, 120 hours of community service, and/or a fine of up to $1,000.
However, mutilating or killing a companion animal, including cats or dogs, is charged as a felony. Conviction can bring a year or more in Nevada State Prison and thousands of dollars in fines.
Defining Animal Cruelty and Abuse
What constitutes animal cruelty and abuse under this statute? The list is long and includes:
- Over-driving, torturing, injuring or abandoning animals.
- Poisoning animals.
- Fighting animals, including organized dog-fighting and cock-fighting.
- Participating in organized animal fights.
- Mistreating or deliberately injuring police animals.
- Mistreating show dogs.
- Abandoning a disabled animal.
- Depriving an impounded animal of air, food, shelter or water.
- Selling an ill animal.
- Selling a disabled horse.
- Placing substances that could hurt animals in public areas.
- Mistreating a milk-producing animal.
- Running horses on a highway.
- Carrying animals in a cruel manner.
- Keeping animals in cars or trucks during bad weather.
Interaction With Exotic Animals Prohibited
The Nevada State Code prohibits allowing the public direct contact with specific exotic pets deemed dangerous. The emphasis is on exotic pets that might be aggressive toward humans and cause injury rather than on animal rights. Recent amendment to the Nevada Administrative Code Section 503 list of those "dangerous wild animals" that are not permitted to have any direct contact with the public includes:
- Elephants from the genera Elephas and Loxodonta.
- All species of aardwolves and hyenas.
- All species of primates, except humans.
- The following species from the family Canidae: Gray wolves (Canis lupus) and Red wolves (Canis rufus) that have been bred in captivity.
- The following species from the family Felidae: Cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus), including hybrids. Clouded leopards (Neofelis nebulosa and Neofelis diardi), including hybrids. Jaguars (Panthera onca), including hybrids. Leopards (Panthera pardus), including hybrids. Lions (Panthera leo), including hybrids. Mountain lions (Puma concolor) that have been bred in captivity, including hybrids. Snow leopards (Panthera uncia), including hybrids. Tigers (Panthera tigris), including hybrids.
- The following species from the family Ursidae: American black bears (Ursus americanus) that have been bred in captivity. Asiatic black bears (Ursus thibetanus). Brown bears (Ursus arctos). Giant pandas (Ailuropoda melanoleuca), Polar bears (Ursus maritimus), Sloth bears (Melursus ursinus). Spectacled bears (Tremarctos ornatus), including hybrids. Sun bears (Helarctos malayanus).
- Born Free USA: Legal Exotic Pets in Nevada
- Animal Law: Nevada Statutes
- Nevada Codes: NRS 193.021
- Shouse Law: Nevada Animal Abuse
- FindLaw: Exotic Animal Laws by State
- Nevada Public Radio: New Nevada Law Puts More Teeth Into Exotic Animal Regulations
- Nevada State Regulations: 503.110
- Adam Kutner Law: Exotic Pets in Nevada
Teo Spengler earned a JD from U.C. Berkeley Law School. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an MA and an MFA in English/writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.