With their striking spotted coats and oversized ears, servals are exotic cats that capture the imaginations of many animal lovers. If you’ve considered getting a serval as a pet, you probably want to know if they are legal in California.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: Owning a serval is illegal in California without a permit. Only facilities like zoos are allowed to have servals, due to concerns over public safety and impacts on wildlife.

In this comprehensive guide, we will cover everything you need to know about serval laws and regulations in California, including permit requirements, public safety issues, and consequences for owning one illegally.

Are Servals Legal to Own in California?

When it comes to owning exotic pets, the laws and regulations can vary greatly from state to state. In the case of California, servals are not legal to own as pets without a permit.

No, servals are illegal without a permit

According to California Department of Fish and Wildlife, servals are classified as restricted species. This means that they are not allowed to be kept as pets unless the owner obtains a special permit.

The permit process involves meeting certain requirements, such as providing adequate housing and demonstrating the ability to properly care for the animal. It is important to note that obtaining a permit can be a complex and lengthy process.

It is illegal to possess a serval without a permit, and individuals found in violation of this law can face serious consequences, including fines and even imprisonment. The reason for these regulations is to protect both the animal and the public.

Servals are wild animals that have specific needs and may pose a risk to public safety if not properly cared for and contained.

Only allowed under restricted species laws

California has strict laws in place to regulate the ownership of restricted species, including servals. These laws are in place to protect the environment, public health, and the welfare of the animals themselves. Servals are native to Africa and are not naturally found in California.

Introducing them into the state’s ecosystem could have detrimental effects on native wildlife populations.

It’s worth mentioning that owning a serval can be a considerable responsibility. They require specialized care, including a proper diet, spacious enclosures, and regular veterinary check-ups. Additionally, servals are active and curious animals with a strong hunting instinct, which can make them challenging to handle and interact with safely.

This is why the state requires individuals to meet strict criteria before being granted a permit to own one.

For more information on the laws and regulations regarding servals and other restricted species in California, it is advisable to consult the official website of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife at www.wildlife.ca.gov.

California Laws and Regulations for Owning Exotic Cats

California has strict laws and regulations in place when it comes to owning exotic cats, such as servals. It is important for prospective owners to familiarize themselves with these laws to ensure they are in compliance and to avoid any legal issues.

F&G Code prohibits possession

Under the California Fish and Game (F&G) Code, it is illegal to possess certain species of exotic cats, including servals, without a proper permit or license. This code is in place to protect both the animals and the general public.

Servals are considered wild animals and their possession requires special permits to ensure they are properly cared for and not used for illegal activities.

The F&G Code aims to prevent the introduction of non-native species into the wild, as well as to regulate the possession and sale of exotic animals. By prohibiting the possession of servals without proper permits, the state can better monitor and control the ownership of these animals.

Penalties for owning illegally

Individuals found to be in possession of servals or other exotic cats without the required permits can face severe penalties under California law. These penalties can include fines, confiscation of the animal, and even criminal charges.

It is crucial for anyone considering owning a serval or any other exotic cat in California to understand the potential consequences of owning one illegally. Not only can it result in legal trouble, but it can also have negative consequences for the animal’s well-being.

If you are interested in owning a serval or any other exotic cat, it is recommended to consult with local authorities or wildlife agencies to learn about the specific permits and licenses required in your area.

They can provide you with the necessary information and guidance to ensure you are in compliance with California’s laws and regulations.

For more information on the laws and regulations regarding exotic animal ownership in California, you can visit the California Department of Fish and Wildlife website.

Permit Requirements for Servals in California

Only zoos and sanctuaries can get permits

In California, owning a serval as a pet is not legal for the general public. The state has strict regulations in place to protect both the servals and the public. However, certain institutions such as zoos and sanctuaries are allowed to obtain permits for keeping and exhibiting servals.

These institutions have to meet specific criteria and adhere to strict guidelines to ensure the welfare and safety of the animals.

According to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the possession of a serval is only permitted if:

  • The owner is a licensed zoo or sanctuary.
  • The serval is owned for exhibition purposes only.
  • The serval is not used for commercial purposes.
  • The owner has obtained the necessary permits and licenses.

These regulations are in place to prevent the illegal trade and mistreatment of servals, as well as to protect the public from potential harm. Servals are wild animals and require specialized care and facilities to ensure their well-being.

Process for applying for an exhibitor permit

If you are part of a zoo or sanctuary and wish to obtain a permit to keep and exhibit servals, you will need to go through a rigorous application process. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife oversees the permitting process and will evaluate each application on a case-by-case basis.

The process for obtaining an exhibitor permit for servals typically involves:

  1. Completing an application form provided by the Department of Fish and Wildlife.
  2. Providing detailed information about the facility where the servals will be housed, including enclosures, security measures, and veterinary care.
  3. Demonstrating expertise and experience in handling and caring for exotic animals, particularly servals.
  4. Submitting any required fees or documentation.

It’s important to note that the permit application process can be lengthy and may require inspections and evaluations of the facility. The Department of Fish and Wildlife aims to ensure that the servals will be kept in a suitable environment and that the institution has the necessary resources to provide proper care.

If you are considering owning a serval as a pet in California, it’s crucial to understand and respect the laws and regulations in place. Instead of owning a serval privately, consider supporting local zoos and sanctuaries that are licensed to care for these magnificent animals.

Public Safety Concerns With Servals as Pets

Risk of attacks and injuries

While servals may appear to be exotic and fascinating pets, it is important to understand the potential risks they can pose to public safety. Servals are wild animals with natural predatory instincts, and despite being smaller than larger wild cats, they still possess the ability to cause harm.

There have been instances where servals have attacked their owners or others, resulting in serious injuries. Their agility, sharp teeth, and strong muscles make them capable of inflicting harm, especially if they feel threatened or scared.

It is crucial to remember that even a well-trained and domesticated serval can still exhibit unpredictable behavior due to its inherent wild nature. This unpredictability puts not only the owner at risk but also anyone who interacts with the animal.

Zoonotic diseases

Another concern with keeping servals as pets is the potential transmission of zoonotic diseases. Zoonotic diseases are those that can be transmitted between animals and humans. While servals may appear healthy, they can carry certain diseases that can be detrimental to human health.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), some potential zoonotic diseases that servals can carry include rabies, bartonellosis, and toxoplasmosis. These diseases can have severe consequences for humans and may require medical intervention.

It is important to note that proper hygiene practices and regular veterinary check-ups can help mitigate the risk of zoonotic diseases. However, the potential for transmission still exists, and it is a significant concern when considering the suitability of servals as pets.

Impacts if released into the wild

One of the lesser-known concerns associated with keeping servals as pets is the potential impact if they are released into the wild. While it may seem unlikely that a pet serval would be released intentionally, there is always a risk of escape or abandonment.

When a serval is released into the wild, it can have detrimental effects on local ecosystems. Servals are native to Africa and are not equipped to survive in the wild in California or other non-native environments.

They can disrupt the natural balance of wildlife and prey on local species, leading to ecological imbalances.

Furthermore, the release of a serval into the wild is illegal in many states, including California, due to the potential harm it can cause to native wildlife populations.

It is crucial to consider these public safety concerns when contemplating owning a serval as a pet. The risks associated with their wild nature, potential transmission of diseases, and ecological impacts highlight the importance of responsible pet ownership and adherence to legal regulations.

Owning a Serval in Neighboring States

If you live in California and are considering owning a Serval, it’s important to note that they are not legal pets in the state. However, neighboring states have different laws and regulations regarding the ownership of Servals. Let’s take a look at the laws in Nevada, Arizona, and Oregon.

Nevada laws

In Nevada, owning a Serval as a pet is legal. However, it is important to familiarize yourself with the specific regulations and requirements set forth by the state. For example, owners may need to obtain a permit or license, provide appropriate housing and care, and adhere to certain safety measures.

It is always recommended to consult with local authorities or wildlife agencies to ensure compliance with all laws and regulations.

Arizona laws

Arizona also allows the ownership of Servals as pets. Similar to Nevada, there are specific regulations and requirements that owners must meet. It is important to note that these laws can vary by city or county, so it is crucial to research and comply with local ordinances.

As with any exotic pet, it is essential to provide the necessary care, attention, and safety measures to ensure the well-being of the animal.

Oregon laws

In Oregon, Servals are considered exotic animals, and owning them as pets is legal. However, similar to Nevada and Arizona, there are regulations that owners must follow. These may include obtaining a permit, providing appropriate housing, and meeting specific care standards.

It is crucial to understand and adhere to these regulations to ensure the welfare of the animal and avoid any legal issues.

Remember, while Servals may be legal to own in neighboring states, it is essential to thoroughly research and understand the laws and regulations in those areas. Responsible ownership of any exotic pet requires knowledge and commitment to providing a suitable environment and care for the animal.


At the end of the day, servals are not suitable pets for private ownership in California. Laws strictly prohibit possession to protect public safety and wildlife.

Very few facilities can meet the requirements to house servals legally in California. Individuals who own one illegally face penalties, citations, and confiscation.

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