With the recent news that a kangaroo that was previously kept on Staten Island died at a New Jersey animal sanctuary, an alligator caught on an Upper Manhattan Street also died and another alligator was spotted in a Queens Park, it is good time to remind people that exotic animals like kangaroos, alligators, tigers and even ferrets are illegal in New York City.
The New York City Health Code expressly prohibits the possession of wild animals, and the term "wild animal" is defined broadly. It includes basically most of what you would view in the Bronx Zoo from a safe distance: lions, tigers and bears. The list may seem far fetched, but stranger things have happened in New York City. Once upon a time, or about a dozen years ago, a tiger and a caiman were captured by the New York City Police Department in an apartment in Harlem occupied by Antoine Yates.
The list of banned wild animals in New York City also includes pets that could be kept in an aquarium: venomous spiders like tarantulas and many kinds of venomous snakes. And, no you may not house an elephant in your studio apartment either. Even the crazy, nasty-ass honey badger is expressly prohibited under the Health Code in New York City Under the Health Code, those who possess wild animals are subject to a penalty of $500 and up to $1,000.
Penalties for keeping or banned animals in your home may not end with a mere fine. One may be also be criminally liable under New York State Law for housing wild animals. First, under Agriculture and Markets Law, one could be charged with Overdriving, torturing and injuring animals; failure to provide substance. The law covers extends to any cruelty to an animal, whether wild or domesticated, and failure to feed animals. The crime is punished by a class A misdemeanor, which means up to one year in jail. Aggravated cruelty to animals, which is also found in the Agriculture and Markets Law, punishes intentionally killing or causing a serious injury to a companion animal as a felony.
While aggravated cruelty to animals does not apply to wild animals, it is worth noting that even a goldfish could be a companion animal and killing one could be a felony! That's right, about a decade ago a man in Manhattan was convicted of aggravated cruelty to animals, and assault and weapons charges for throwing a fishbowl at a television and then in front of three children stomping on a goldfish -- which was named after one of the children. An appellate court that reviewed the conviction rejected the man's argument that "a fish is not a companion animal because it is not domesticated and because there is no reciprocity or mutuality of feeling between a fish and its owner, such as there is between a dog or a cat and its owner." The Court held that loyalty is not a defying characteristic of a companion animal.
In addition, housing a wild animal could implicate more serious criminal charges like reckless endangerment, either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the degree of risk of injury or death. Mr. Yates, who housed the 400-pound Bengali tiger in public housing, pleaded guilty to felony reckless endangerment.
There may be serious consequences to keeping wild animals in your home. It may seem cool to keep exotic animals like a kangaroo in your backyard or an alligator in your apartment, but it is not a good idea for the animal's own welfare or in light of potential criminal liability.