Kentucky and Indiana may be neighbors, but the state line marks the divide when it comes to who can have a wild animal as a pet and who can’t.
Since 1969, Hoosiers have been allowed to keep wild animals native to Indiana with a state-issued permit. In 1995, lawmakers added wild cats, bears and wolves to the list.
And since 1987, the state has exempted any residents with a USDA license—breeders, dealers and exhibitors—from having to meet those requirements.
Kentucky used to license exotics animal owners until the commonwealth changed its law in 2005. Now, the Bluegrass state has one of the most stringent laws against personal possession of exotic wildlife in the United States. The long list of banned animals includes tigers, lions, bears and cheetahs.
“It hits those high profile species that definitely, statistically … have a higher chance of causing public safety and public health issues whether through disease or physical danger,” said Chad Soard, a wildlife biologist at the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife.
And while there are exemptions, they’re tough to come by. A facility accredited by the American Zoo and Aquarium Association is exempt, but even universities and governmental agencies have to apply for an exemption if they want a prohibited animal for research or education purposes.
And travelers carrying these animals across the state line must have a permit. They can’t exhibit the animals while they’re in the commonwealth, can’t sell, barter or trade them, and must be out of the state within 48 hours.
Those who had these banned animals before the 2005 law change were allowed to keep them until their natural deaths but can’t buy or breed more. The state does not keep a record of who has them or what kind, Soard said.
Despite the strict law against possession of these animals, that hasn’t stopped some Kentuckians from trying.
Wildlife officers have written citations for a slew of banned animals. They found a monkey in Marion County. An alligator in an Allen County pool. And once, they issued a citation to a man carrying nine live sharks in a 150-gallon tank in his vehicle on Interstate 75. He didn’t have a permit.
If there’s any question, Soard suggested, check the list. But more than likely, he can probably already tell you the answer.
“You can’t have it,” he said. “That’s right. You just can’t have it in Kentucky.”
The law in Indiana
Here’s a list of animals that require a permit in Indiana. Class I animals, which aren’t considered a threat to personal or public safety but still require a permit, include certain types of squirrels and rabbit. Class II animals are those that may post a threat to human safety because of their nature, habits or status. Class III animals are those that present a real or potential threat to human safety.
Class II Wild Animals
- Coyote (Castor latrans)
- Gray fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus)
- Red fox (Vulpes fulva)
- Mink (Mustela vison)
- Muskrat (Ondatra zibethicus)
- Virginia Opossum (Didelphis marsupialis)
- Raccoon (Procyon lotor)
- Striped Skunk (Mephitis mephitis)
- Weasel (Mustela frenata, Mustela nivalis, and Mustela rixosa)
- Serval (Leptailurus serval)
- Leopard cat (Prionailurus bengalensis)
- Margay cat (Felis wiedi)
- Jaguarundi cat (Felis yagouaroundi)
- Jungle cat (Felis chaus)
- Pallas’ cat (Felis manul)
- Sand cat (Felis margarita)
- Black-footed cat (Felis nigripes)
- Flat-headed cat (Prionailurus planiceps)
- Fishing cat (Prionailurus viverrinus)
- Geoffroy’s cat (Leopardus geoffroyi)
- Pampas cat (Leopardus pajeros)
- Little spotted cat (Leopardus tigrinus)
- Pantanal cat (Leopardus braccatus)
- Marbled cat (Pardofelis marmorata)
- A hybrid of any of these species with a domestic dog or cat is exempt from permitting under this section.
Class III Wild Animals
- Wolves that are purebred
- Bears (all species)
- Wild cats (all species), except feral cats
- Venomous reptiles
- Crocodilians that are at least five (5) feet long
- A hybrid of any of these species with a domestic dog or domestic cat is exempt from permitting under this section.
The law in Kentucky
Here’s a list of animals that are prohibited. They are listed in two categories, inherently dangerous and environmentally injurious.
Inherently dangerous animals
These animals can’t be imported or possessed in the state:
- Alligators or caimans
- African buffalo
- Clouded leopard
- Gila monsters or beaded lizards
- Honey badger or ratel
- Hyenas, all species except aardwolves
- Lions, jaguars, leopards or tigers
- Old world badger
- Primates, nonhuman
- Snow leopard
- Venomous exotic snakes of these families: Viperidae, Atractaspididae, Elapidae, and Colubridae, except for hognose snakes (Genus Heterodon)
- Hybrids of all species contained in this list
These animals can’t be imported, possessed or transported through the state:
- Baya weaver
- Blackbirds, except native species;
- Cape sparrow
- Cowbirds, except native species
- Cuckoo, except native species
- Dioch or red-billed quelea
- European blackbird
- Flying fox or fruit bat
- Gambian giant pouched rat
- Giant, marine, or cane toad
- Hawaiian rice bird or spotted munia
- Jack rabbit
- Java sparrow
- Madagascar weaver
- Mistle thrush
- Monk or Quaker parakeet
- Multimammate rat
- Mute swan
- Prairie dog
- Raccoon dog
- San Juan rabbit
- Sky lark
- Song thrush
- Starling, including pink starlings or rosy pastors, except for Indian Hill mynahs Suricate or slender-tailed meerkat
- Tongueless or African clawed frog
- Weaver finch, except Passer domesticus
- White eyes
- Wild European rabbit (also called the San Juan Rabbit) not distinguishable morphologically from native wild rabbits
- Yellowhammer (Emberiza citrinella); or
- A member of the following families:
- Suidae (pigs or hogs), except for domestic swine;
- Viverridae (civits, genets, lingsangs, mongooses and fossas); or
- Tayassuidae (peccaries and javelinas)
Reporter Kristina Goetz can be reached at email@example.com or (502) 814-6546.
This story was reported by Louisville Public Media’s Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.