Are Monkeys Legal In California?

Many people find monkeys to be cute, exotic animals and consider keeping them as pets. However, monkeys require highly specialized care and can be dangerous. If you live in California and are wondering if it’s legal to own a monkey, read on.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: Owning monkeys and other exotic animals as pets is illegal in California without proper permits and licensing that are difficult to obtain.

This comprehensive guide covers everything you need to know about monkey ownership laws in California, including permit requirements, public safety concerns, and options for legal monkey interactions.

California Laws on Monkey Ownership

California Restricted Species Laws

California has strict laws regarding the ownership of exotic animals, including monkeys. The state classifies certain species as “restricted” and requires individuals to obtain special permits in order to possess them.

Monkeys fall under this category, as they are considered wildlife and not domesticated pets. It is important for prospective monkey owners to familiarize themselves with the specific laws and regulations in their county or city, as they may have additional restrictions or requirements.

According to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the possession or sale of restricted species without a permit is illegal and can result in criminal charges. This is done to protect both the animals and the public.

Monkeys, while intelligent and fascinating creatures, require specialized care and can pose risks to humans if not properly managed.

Monkey Possession Permits

In order to legally own a monkey in California, individuals must obtain a possession permit from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. The requirements for obtaining a permit may vary depending on the species of monkey and the intended purpose of ownership.

The department will typically consider factors such as the applicant’s experience and knowledge in caring for exotic animals, the safety precautions in place, and the overall well-being of the monkey.

It is important to note that obtaining a possession permit does not guarantee approval. The department will thoroughly assess each application and may deny permits if they deem the circumstances unsuitable for the monkey’s welfare.

This is to ensure that monkeys are not kept in inappropriate or inadequate conditions.

For more information on the specific permit requirements and application process, individuals can visit the official California Department of Fish and Wildlife website at

Public Health and Safety Concerns

Disease Risks

One of the main concerns regarding the legality of keeping monkeys in California is the potential transmission of diseases. Monkeys, like other animals, can carry various zoonotic diseases that can be harmful to humans. Some of these diseases include herpes B virus, tuberculosis, and monkeypox.

These diseases can be transmitted through bites, scratches, or even through contact with bodily fluids. It is important to note that while the risk of contracting these diseases from monkeys is relatively low, the potential consequences can be severe.

Aggressive Behavior Dangers

Another concern related to public health and safety is the potential for aggressive behavior displayed by monkeys. While not all monkeys exhibit aggressive behavior, certain species, such as macaques, have been known to become aggressive towards humans, especially when they feel threatened or when they perceive a territorial invasion.

This aggression can result in serious injuries to humans, especially if the monkeys are not properly trained or socialized. It is essential to consider the potential risks associated with keeping monkeys as pets and the importance of proper training and handling.

Proper Enclosure Difficulties

Providing a suitable living environment for monkeys can be challenging. Monkeys require large enclosures with ample space for climbing, swinging, and engaging in natural behaviors. They also need access to sunlight, fresh air, and appropriate dietary needs.

Maintaining such an enclosure can be expensive and time-consuming. Additionally, even with the best intentions, it can be difficult to replicate the natural habitat and social structures that monkeys need to thrive.

For these reasons, it is crucial to carefully consider the practicalities and responsibilities of owning a monkey before making the decision to keep one as a pet.

Alternatives for Monkey Interactions

While monkeys may not be legal to own as pets in California, there are still plenty of alternatives for individuals who are interested in interacting with these fascinating creatures. Here are a few options to consider:

Visit a Zoo or Sanctuary

One of the best ways to experience the joy of monkey interactions is by visiting a zoo or sanctuary. California is home to several reputable facilities that house a wide variety of monkey species. These organizations often provide educational programs where visitors can learn about monkeys’ behaviors, habitats, and conservation efforts.

Some popular monkey-related attractions include the Los Angeles Zoo, the San Diego Zoo, and the Wildlife Waystation in Sylmar.

Volunteer at a Rescue

If you have a passion for helping animals, consider volunteering at a monkey rescue organization. There are numerous non-profit centers and sanctuaries in California that focus on rescuing and rehabilitating monkeys who have been abused, abandoned, or neglected.

By volunteering your time, you can provide much-needed care and support to these intelligent creatures. Not only will you gain hands-on experience with monkeys, but you’ll also be making a meaningful difference in their lives.

Virtual Ownership

For those who want to have a closer connection to monkeys without owning one, virtual ownership can be a unique and rewarding option. Virtual ownership allows individuals to support the well-being of a specific monkey in a sanctuary through monthly or annual sponsorship.

This sponsorship often includes updates on the monkey’s progress, photos, and even the opportunity to visit the monkey in person. Organizations like the Primate Rescue Center and the Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand offer virtual adoption programs that allow individuals to contribute to the care of monkeys from afar.

Remember, it’s important to respect the laws and regulations regarding animal ownership in your area. While monkeys may not be legal as pets in California, there are still plenty of ways to engage with these incredible creatures and support their well-being.

Owning Monkeys in Other States

While the legality of owning monkeys varies across different states in the United States, California has some of the strictest regulations. However, in other states, individuals may be able to legally own monkeys with certain restrictions and requirements.

It is important to note that laws can change, so it is always recommended to check with local authorities or legal professionals for the most up-to-date information.

States with Stricter Bans

Some states have implemented stricter bans on owning monkeys as pets. For example, New York, New Jersey, and Hawaii have outright bans on owning primates as pets. These states have determined that keeping monkeys as pets poses potential risks to both the animals and the owners.

Violating these bans can result in fines or even criminal charges.

States Requiring USDA Licensing

On the other hand, there are states that allow ownership of monkeys but require individuals to obtain a license from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). This license ensures that owners meet certain standards of care for the animals.

States such as Florida, Texas, and Nevada fall into this category. The USDA license typically involves inspections and adherence to specific guidelines regarding the monkeys’ housing, diet, and overall well-being.

It is important to emphasize that owning a monkey, regardless of the state’s laws, is a significant responsibility. Monkeys are complex animals that require specialized care, adequate space, and social interaction.

Potential owners should thoroughly research the specific needs and considerations before deciding to bring a monkey into their home.


In summary, it is generally illegal to own monkeys as pets in California without very specific permitting. While monkeys are fascinating creatures, public safety issues and complex care requirements mean they do not make good pets. Fortunately, there are safer, more responsible ways to interact with and appreciate these amazing primates.

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