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NEW YORK (MainStreet) -- Heeere, Liger, Liger, Liger ...

When it comes to dangerous animals, the motto of the United States, "land of the free, home of the brave," goes a long way in describing the patchwork of laws and statutes governing what creatures regular folks can keep in a cage in their backyards.

These pets the government won't let you have may injure or kill you, but the feds can't say they aren't really cool.

It's the land of the free because, in general, anyone can get their hands on pretty much any animal known to man as long as it's not on the Fish & Wildlife Service's

endangered species list

, though there are even loopholes to that umbrella legislation.

"For the most part, if you're commercializing a species on the endangered species list, you'll most likely run afoul of that law," says Adam Roberts, executive vice president of Born Free USA, an animal rights advocacy group. He explains that loopholes exist for inbred or hybridized animals, or for animals bred in captivity that never cross state lines. "For most animals," he adds, "there is always going to be a home somewhere."

That's because, thanks to the commerce clause in the U.S. Constitution, the federal government is allowed only to restrict trade between states rather than within them. So, in the home of the brave, it is left to the states themselves to determine what to restrict and what not to, and that leads to a whole

spectrum of laws and regulations

, almost none of which are uniformly enforced.

Understanding that any animal has probably been kept as a pet in some part of the country, what follows are those animals most commonly subject to restrictions, as determined by a look at the relevant state-level legislation. Be sure to read to the end, because the coolest animal on the list is one of the very few whose possession is always a severely punishable offense, and it blows the others out of the water:


Anyone looking to live out their own private

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

fantasy is in for a surprise, as there are generally wide restrictions for this coolest of nonhuman primates.

The chimpanzee is our closest relative in the animal kingdom,

sharing 98% of our DNA

. In addition to just having an unsettlingly "human" look in their eyes, they have shown some distinctly human behavior, such as


, that some people would surely love to put to use at home.

Unfortunately, ownership of nonhuman primates is banned in most states for any purpose other than scientific research. Those owned by federal agencies for scientific research are subject to the

Chimpanzee Health Improvement Maintenance and Protection Act

, which provides for retirement sanctuaries where the animals live out their lives under close supervision. The law ensures that the chimps are not bred or released to private owners once they "retire."

Galapagos tortoises

It may be hard to imagine what threat one of the most slow-moving creatures on Earth poses to communities around the U.S., but the famed

Galapagos tortoise

is one of those endangered species that federal law prohibits people to own. It's a shame, because who wouldn't want to ride around on the back of a gigantic turtle for the

well over 100 years they can live


The Galapagos tortoise has been on the endangered species list

since 1970

, before which there were far fewer restrictions on what could be done with the animals. Since they live so long, many of those animals obtained and bred in captivity before 1970 are grandfathered out of current laws that restrict the trade of endangered species, but it means they must stay in the state they were bred and carry the accompanying paperwork.


Big cats have

often escaped

from whatever cages they are kept in and their attacks have many times

turned out to be fatal

. Thanks to this, and their amazing strength and speed in general, big cats have been the subject of the greatest number of laws at the federal, state and local levels that

restrict their ownership

, including through the

Captive Wildlife Safety Act

saying no big cats or their hybrids may be taken across state lines.

That means no ligers, perhaps the coolest of all animal hybrids ever conceived of by man. The offspring of a male lion and female tiger, the liger is bigger than either parent species, making it the

largest cat in existence

. While certain licensed animal sanctuaries and zoos are allowed to keep ligers,

one look at a full-grown adult

is enough to explain why the creature is best kept out of most people's hands.


Dogs have long been a status symbol for people, perhaps because the incredible amount to which the animals have been cross-bred has created

hundreds of species

. Despite the success of domesticated dogs, though, their wild counterpart from which all dogs are descended have not learned to live well with humans.

For this reason wolves are

banned in most states

, as they are notoriously

difficult to keep behind bars


Despite this, there are ways for people to get their wolf fix, since some states allow you to keep wolf-dog hybrids almost as good as the real thing. While some such as Massachusetts

explicitly ban hybrids

, most restrict only the wolf itself rather than its hybrid descendants.

Black Mambas

Regulations on reptiles generally concern the poisonous ones, so while relaxed statutes on constricting snakes such as pythons and boa constrictors mean they are significantly easier to get (and significantly more likely to be abandoned and

cause problems

), snake lovers who like to live dangerously will have a much harder time getting their hands on a black mamba.

Black mambas are the most venomous snakes on the planet, and their bites are often lethal -- especially because they tend to strike multiple times when they strike at all. Death comes within about 20 minutes

if no antivenin is around

. What's more, the snake's relatively harmless appearance (no rattle, no distinct head shape) makes it even more dangerous.


The giant panda that has inspired children's toys for centuries and Chinese folklore for millennia benefits from a blanket ban on being moved across state lines in the U.S., thanks to its position on the Fish & Wildlife Service's

endangered species list


As cuddly as they look, pandas are big and strong like other bears, and although they may not be as violent as species

such as the grizzly or black bear

, they have occasionally put the humans that care for them in zoos

in danger


There's no doubt pandas would make awesome pets, but there is a reason their ownership is restricted in the U.S., both for their protection and for ours.

Saltwater Crocodiles

With the astonishingly high number of attacks

involving alligators and crocodiles

, it may not be surprising to know the majority of states in this union specifically ban crocodiles and alligators in their overall animal control legislation. One of those is Florida, where just last week a teenager caught a 12-foot alligator

while out fishing


And just this month villagers in a rural area of the Phillippines

captured a 21-foot saltwater crocodile

(crocs can grow to be significantly larger than their cousins), believed to be the biggest ever caught on the planet.

In any case, saltwater crocs are listed on the Fish & Wildlife Service's

endangered species list

, so anyone caught trafficking in the giant reptiles faces hefty fines.

Bald Eagles

Without a doubt, the majestic bald eagle is the coolest pet you can't have. It's our national bird and an awesome predator to boot, and surely would find a ready market among the political class. An American-flag lapel pin looks pretty lame if the candidate standing next to you at the debate has a bald eagle on his or her arm.

Unfortunately, this awesome bird is thoroughly protected by the 1940

Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act

, which prohibits anyone from killing, capturing, owning or in any way disturbing the eagles in America. Any violators get slapped with a $100,000 fine, so keep that in mind on your next hunting trip.

The only Americans who can in any way own a bald eagle are Native Americans. Members of any federally recognized tribe may apply to the Fish & Wildlife Service's

National Eagle Repository

in Denver, Co., to be given

bald eagle parts or feathers to be used for ceremonial purposes


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