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Don't Domesticate
Don't Domesticate

​​​Wild Animals Should Stay Wild​

More people are recently becoming interested in owning exotic animals as pets. However, Colorado takes a conservative stance on private ownership of wildlife. This page (taken from the brochure "Exotic Pets and Prohibited Wildlife") will explain state laws and regulations governing wildlife as pets, including what’s legal and what's illegal to own, and why.

In general, it is illegal to own wildlife in Colorado. You cannot remove a wild animal from the woods and take it home. As a public resource, wildlife belongs to the state of Colorado, to all citizens.

In addition, there are numerous species you cannot have as pets, many of which are exotic or non-native animals. There are also some animals you can keep as pets, but only with a specific license from the state.

There are many good reasons for these regulations, as complex as they may seem. Regulating wild animals falls under the jurisdiction of the Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the Colorado Department of Health, and the state Department of Agriculture. These agencies have adopted regulations with three main goals:

  1. Ensuring public health and safety

  2. Protecting domestic livestock

  3. Protecting the state's wildlife and wildlife resources

From the Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s perspective, Colorado’s wild animals should stay wild. This is the main philosophy behind prohibiting people from owning wildlife. Not only are many of our native wildlife species potentially dangerous, like predators, they can also spread diseases to people and domestic animals.

Imported and exotic species brought into Colorado are regulated as well. Some are legal with permits; some are prohibited. The reasoning behind the regulations center on health and safety issues, primarily to prevent spreading diseases to people, domestic pets, livestock, and native wildlife.

The regulations also are aimed at protecting all animals from cruelty through negligence, overwork, mistreatment, or lack of care.

Domestic Animals

It is legal to have domestic animals, which aren't regulated by the Colorado Parks and Wildlife. These animals must, however, comply with regulations of the state agriculture and health departments that deal with public and animal health. This is a list of animals classified as domestic:

Common NameGenus/Species
AlpacaLama pocos
Ass and donkeyEquus asinus
BisonBison bison
CamelCamelus bactrianus and Camelus dromedarius
CatsFelis catus, including hybrids with wild felids
CattleBos taurus and Bos indicus
ChickensGallus gallus
ChinchillaChinchilla lanigera
DogsCanis familiaris, including hybrids with wild canids
DucksAnatidae, distinguishable morphologically from wild birds
EmuDromiceius spp.
European ferretsMustela putorius
Fowl (Guinea)Numida meleagris
GeeseAnatidae, distinguished morphologically from wild birds
GerbilsMeriones unguiculatus
GoatsCapra hircus
HamstersMesocricetus spp.
HorsesEquus callabus and hybrids with Equus asinus
LlamaLama glama
MiceMus musculus
MinkMustela vison
OstrichStruthio camelus
PeafowlPavo cristatus
Pig (Guinea)Cavia pocellus
PigeonsColumba livia
Rabbits (European)Oryctolagus cuniculus
RatsRattus novegicus and Rattus rattus
RheaRhea americana
ReindeerRangifer tarandus
SheepOvis aries
SwineSus scofa domestica
TurkeysMeleagris gallopavo, distinguished morphologically from wild birds
YakBos grunniens


Wildlife You Can Own

Some animals sold commercially are considered exotic wildlife. The Division of Wildlife has created a category of species called Unregulated Wildlife. These are species that are legal to own, import, or sell. You do not need a license from the Division of Wildlife to have one of these species. You must, however, comply with all other federal, state, and local laws dealing with importation, disease, and other issues.

Legal Non-Mammals 

These are the non-mammal species that are legal to own in Colorado:

  • All tropical and subtropical birds, including parrots, in the order Passeriformes.
  • All tropical and subtropical fishes, including common gold fish and koi.
  • All tropical and non-native subtropical frogs, toads, snakes, and lizards. All venomous snakes require a license and proof of commercial use.
  • All marine vertebrates and invertebrates, except anadromous and catadromous species. 
  • All tropical and non-native subtropical turtles. Caimans are legal. Alligators and crocodiles require a Commercial Wildlife Park license.

    Up to four individuals of each of the following species and/or subspecies of reptiles and amphibians may be taken annually and held in captivity, provided that no more than 12 in the aggregate may be possessed at any time.
Common NameGenus/Species
Plains spadefootSpea bombifrons
Woodhouse's toadBufo woodhousii
Western chorus frogPseudacris triseriata
Painted turtleChrysemys picta
Western box turtleTerrapena ornata
Sagebrush lizardSceloporus undulatus
Tree lizardUrosaurus ornatus
Side-blotched lizardUta stansburiana
Prairie & Plateau lizardsSceloporus undulatus
BullsnakePituophus catenifer
Western terrestrial garter snakeThamnophis elegans
Plains garter snakeThamnophis radix
Lesser earless lizardHolbrookia maculata
Western whiptailCnemidophorus tigris
RacerColuber constrictor
Western hognose snakeHeterodon nasicus

Legal Mammals

Elk and fallow deer are classified as alternative livestock and are licensed by the Department of Agriculture. Below are the other mammals that are legal to own in Colorado:

Common NameGenus/Species
African pygmy hedgehogAtelerix, Erinaceus; albiventris  
Red kangaroo  Macropus rufus
Short-tailed possumMonodelphis domestca  
Sugar glidersPetaurus breviceps  
Bennett wallabyMacropus rufogriseus  
Dama wallabyMacropus eugenii  
Swamp wallabyWallabia bicolor  
WallarooMacropus robustus  


Why Wildlife Should Not Be Made Into Pets

Examples from Around the Country​

​Children were playing in a field near their foothills home when they spotted the tiny ball of fur huddled in a culvert. It was an infant raccoon, still soaking wet from the previous night’s rainstorm. It couldn’t have weighed more than a pound. Thinking the poor creature was orphaned, the children carried it home and convinced their mom to let them care for it.

At first, the raccoon made a wonderful pet. It was sweet, friendly, cuddly and playful. That didn’t last long. The raccoon began to grow larger and larger. Soon, it hit puberty, with its hormones raging and moods turning ugly. The animal got loose in the house and ripped everything in its path to shreds—pillows, shoes, toys, and clothes. It snarled without provocation. It attacked and bit the family dog. Then one day, the raccoon bit a neighbor child. Fortunately the child received only minor injuries.

Much to the family’s surprise, it’s illegal to own raccoons in Colorado. These wild animals carry rabies and other diseases, and cannot be vaccinated. Consequently, the raccoon was turned over to the Colorado Parks and Wildlife and had to be destroyed.

If you think having a wild animal for a pet would be fun, think again. This raccoon nightmare happens only too frequently in Colorado. And, the story is often replayed for families who adopt other wildlife species.​

Teller County Example

On Friday October 27, 2000, a Teller County Sheriff’s officer, following advice from the Colorado Division of Wildlife, (now Colorado Parks and Wildlife) euthanized a cow elk near the town of Woodland Park, west of Colorado Springs. Following is a brief synopsis of the events as compiled by Michael Seraphin, Information Specialist based in Colorado Springs.

At approximately 11 a.m. the Teller County Sheriff’s Office received a call about an elk stopping traffic on Highway 67 north of Woodland Park, near the Southmeadows Campground. The caller said the elk had been spray painted and had a bag on its head.

The sheriff’s office responded to the call, and, at the same time, contacted District Wildlife Manager Tonya Sharp of the Colorado Division of Wildlife. Sharp was on the other side of the county, but after discussing the situation, she asked the sheriff’s deputy to euthanize the elk.

A hunter agreed to take the elk and utilize the meat. When the elk was field dressed, bailing twine, a rubber glove, and a plastic grocery bag were found in its stomach.

The elk was a year-and-half old female weighing more than 300 pounds. At the time of its death, the elk had what appeared to be pink spray paint on one side. In addition, an orange mesh vest and a cloth Halloween costume were wrapped around its neck.

The story of this elk started more than a year ago when it was "adopted", by Kayo Armentrout and Marsha McCain of Woodland Park, as a young calf. The then DOW first heard about the elk in June, 2000. Some of Armentrout’s neighbors began complaining about a now grown 300-pound elk trampling their property, sleeping on their porches, and generally "causing a nuisance", according to the reports. At one point, the elk tried to break into one of the neighbor’s houses.

Sharp talked to the neighbors and advised them "to do some negative conditioning", in an attempt to deter the elk from frequenting their property. She suggested removing food sources, (e.g., bird food, livestock feed, hay, etc.). At the same time, Sharp advised Armentrout and McCain to do the same.

On October 9, a Woodland Park family called 911 after the elk attacked them as they were hiking on a pedestrian trail near the Southmeadows campground (in the vicinity of the Armentrout and McCain residence). There is at least one other documented case of this elk attacking a human. It is believed there may be more instances that went unreported.

The then DOW made the decision to destroy the elk because it had become a threat to public safety. A 300-pound elk can easily kill an adult, and is especially dangerous to a young child who might not know enough to keep a safe distance from an unpredictable wild animal. While it is unfortunate the elk was destroyed, the alternative might have been a seriously injured—or dead—person.​​

​Imprinting vs. Becoming Accustomed

Whenever a person tries to tame a wild animal, whether it is an elk, a bear, or a raccoon, the results are always bad for the animal, and usually bad for the human, as well.

Wildlife professionals across the nation agree there is a big difference between wild animals that "imprint" on people and wild animals that become "accustomed to living in close proximity to people".

Animals that "imprint" on people are the most dangerous type of wildlife. The elk in Rocky Mountain National Park, for example, are accustomed to people. Although they pose a potential danger, the elk usually keep a safe distance from people and will flee if a person tries to get too close to them. On the other hand, an elk that imprints on people is far more dangerous than even a bear or a mountain lion because once an elk imprints on people, it does not know how to act like an elk.

There are numerous cases of people being killed by deer that they have raised. One of the most recent cases was in October 31, 2000, in Minnesota. According to the report in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, A Forest Lake man was killed when the family's pet whitetail buck gored him to death. In Kansas on September 16, 2000, a 75-year old woman was killed by an eight year old buck that she had raised. Her husband found the woman's body when she failed to return from feeding the deer. The 200-pound buck had gored and trampled her. Each year Alaskan wildlife officers are forced to kill five-to-ten moose in and around Anchorage. In nearly all of the cases wildlife biologists report there was a pattern of food habituation. According to Bruce Barley of Alaskan Fish and Game, the moose begins to expect food from every human and becomes aggressive when people don't feed it. In Galesburg, Illinois, a man was killed by a deer he raised as a pet. Wildlife biologists believe the deer's behavior switched because of hormonal changes related to the beginning of the breeding season.

The people who "domesticated" this elk near Woodland Park said they wanted the elk to return to the wild. Although their intentions were good, they did not fully understand the unintended consequences of their actions. Once the elk imprinted on them, the elk was put in a lose/lose situation. It became impossible for the elk to ever return to the wild as a normal, healthy elk because it would be forever dependent on humans.

Just because an elk might not act aggressively at one given moment, there is no guarantee that it won't be aggressive at any other given moment, as is evident in this case.

Relocating this elk would have resulted​​ in moving the problem somewhere else. There are virtually no places in Colorado where this elk would not seek out humans.

It is illegal in Colorado to feed big game, and possess or transport wildlife; sick, orphaned, and injured wildlife should be handled only by trained and licensed wildlife rehabilitators. Wildlife rehabilitation permits are only given to people who have adequate training and facilities to care for sick, injured or orphaned wildlife in a manner that minimizes human contact and maximizes the chances that wildlife can be returned successfully to the wild. It is not legal to "adopt" wildlife as a personal possession or pet.

Please, don’t domesticate our wildlife! They deserve to be wild and we, the public who owns all wildlife in the state of Colorado, deserve to see them in a wild state.