Virginia laws might prohibit you from becoming the next Tiger King – but there’s little stopping you from becoming the world’s next monkey king.
The Netflix Series Tiger King has reentered the public eye with a second season of episodes for fans to sink their teeth into.
The original episodes captivated audiences with a mixed bag of real-life accounts of murder plots, personal rivalries, shady business deals and drug use – all centered around the niche world of big cat zoo and rescue owners.
A combination of stay-at-home orders being issued in 2020, the show’s release within weeks of those orders and the absolute mayhem among Tiger King’s colorful cast characters made the show explode into pop culture folklore.
Tiger King is named for Joe Exotic, a now 58-year-old man who owned an Oklahoma animal park which housed at least 70 big cats like lions and tigers, among other exotic animals. He is now serving a 22-year sentence for trying to hire two different hitmen to murder a rival big cat personality, Carole Baskin, who owns a Florida animal sanctuary.
The average Virginia resident won’t be able to re-create The Garold Wayne Exotic Animal Memorial Park. But, what exotic creatures could you put into your local backyard animal sanctuary?
The most abnormal answer: you can own a monkey, but only certain kinds of monkeys.
Virginia Law forbids the possession of any non-native exotic animals which are classed as “predatory” or “undesirable” as a pet. This includes, but is not limited to, bears, wolves, coyotes, weasels, badgers, hyenas, alligators, crocodiles and non-domesticated cats, like tigers. Animals like these can only be owned by licensed exhibitor for commercial, scientific or educational purposes.
Virginia State Code section 4VAC15-30-40 also lists about 140 different species of fish, mammals, bird, amphibians, mollusks, reptiles and crustaceans that are classed as predatory or undesirable.
The law however, makes no exclusion for apes or other primates, and says that any animal not listed under the code can be owned legally.
That “animals not listed” requirement comes with some conditions. A special permit is required for any animal that is listed federally as endangered or threatened. People could have trouble obtaining those permits if they are not working with an accredited zoo or center for captivity.
Most popular species of pet monkeys – like Capuchin, Tamarin and Guenon – are endangered. Marmosets and some species of Macaque are not endangered, and perfectly legal to own in Virginia.
Many animal rights groups and pet experts warn against owning any kind of monkey. They need immense amounts of social attention and physical space to roam, or else they develop behavioral problems. Even with those needs met, they never become domesticated like a cat or a dog. They can be uncontrollable and sometimes violent.
Virginia does allow other types of exotic pets that are much easier to care for.
In the reptile realm, residents can own geckos, tortoises, iguanas and non-venomous snakes.
Leopard Geckos make great pets for beginner reptile owners because they have a relatively friendly and calm demeanor, while being fairly low-maintenance. Tortoises can also make for friendly companions, but anyone getting one should remember that they can live for 50 to 100 years. A six-year-old child could experience a full life and still be outlived by a tortoise.
Virginians are prohibited from owning owls via the federal government’s regulation, but you can still own other exotic birds like parakeets, canaries and African greys. Parakeets make good pets for a house of any size. They are colorful to the eye, friendly, affectionate with people and are very affordable. Some of the larger exotic birds exhibit extreme levels of intelligence, making them a fun companion to interact with.
The state also allowed ownership of other non-feline or canine animals like rabbits, ferrets and small mammals like hedgehogs, rats and sugar gliders.
All of this is to say that you may not become the Tri-Cities “Tiger” King, but you could fill your house with an eclectic mix of marmosets, parrots, tortoises and non-venomous snakes.
You can reach Sean Jones at [email protected] Follow him at @SeanJones_PI. Follow The Progress-Index on Twitter at @ProgressIndex.