Can You Legally Buy and Own a Penguin as a Pet?

Many people enjoy exotic animals as pets. Owning penguins as pets can be both exciting and a novelty for family, friends, and visitors. But, in the United States, if you’re considering penguins as pet animals, think again. The U.S. Department of Agriculture and even your local government officials have rules and regulations regarding the import and keeping of exotic animals.

So, the answer to whether you can legally buy and own penguins as pet depends on how you are keeping them. Even if you live in Alaska where the climate would be conducive to these cold climate birds, it is still illegal to have a penguin as a pet. But, that does not mean there aren’t penguins in captivity. In other words, if you run a zoo facility or a wildlife refuge, then yes – you can have penguins on site. 

But do you really want to get a penguin pet?

Even if you could legally, you wouldn’t want to… That’s because a Penguin likely won’t be an easy pet. They are very social animals and you would need (at least 20) more companion penguins as they are pack animals and do best in a colony. Another obvious factor is temperature. You would likely keep them at very cold temperatures and with an excess of fresh water and lots of fishes for the penguin to eat.

In short: They make horrible pets. And You can keep them in captivity, but not as a pet.

But here is an old video I found where strangely enough, there was supposedly a family in Japan who kept a king penguin as a pet. Check out this adorable penguin:


For most species of penguins, you will need to keep the temperature around 30–40 degrees F. And you will also need an Olympic-sized saltwater pool for them, one with a much more robust aeration and cleaning system than a regular house pool.

And did I tell you they poop a lot…Leave ten pounds of fish outside to spoil.  Then run it through a mixer and pour it out on your floor…fish-stinky poop – That’s what penguin poop is like. Really!

Unless you own/work in a zoo, wild animals like penguins should stay where they love to live best… in their own habitats with their own species.

Sure…They look super cute in the pictures but the reality of keeping a penguin is far different. They are really messy and loud. You can here them from miles.

Here is a video of close interaction with an Emperor Penguin!

Fun Fact: Penguins don’t have predators on land so when they see a different species, they just think you’re a weird looking penguin.

What is considered an exotic animal?

There are many animals that are considered wild or exotic. And, no one state bans all wildlife from becoming a domesticated pet. It depends on where you live and what animals you are talking about. For example, birds are wild animals, but you can own most bird species as a pet. Reptiles, even ones from exotic lands, are often kept as pets.

So, why not penguins? Penguins are an aquatic, flightless bird that is found living in the Southern Hemisphere. Countries like South Africa, Australia, Peru, Chile, New Zealand, and several sub-Antarctic islands are home to some 18 penguin species. Eleven of these species are officially on the endangered wildlife list. So, that will give you a clue as to why governments are not likely to start allowing penguins as pets.

So, while many other exotic animals that are not native or indigenous to America are legal as pets, penguins are not one of them. Chimpanzees, Bearded Dragon, Wallaby (mini Kangaroo), and even hedgehogs are considered legal pets in some US states.

Why are penguins protected?

The United States is one of many countries that have adopted laws that protect penguins of the Antarctic. It is specified in the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty. Over the years, penguins have been hunted for their oil, killed to be eaten as food, as slaughtered for their fat, which can be used as fuel. There are also threats to penguin habitats, such as global climate change. Other challenges that these vanishing animals face in the wild include:

  1. Human encroachment from expansion, pollution, and other activities that destroy the penguin’s natural habitat
  2. Competition among fishermen for penguins as a food source and a commodity
  3. Reduction in sea temperatures and melting ice surfaces that disrupt the penguins’ life cycles and available prey
  4. The introduction of land predators that eat penguin eggs and young, such as rats, foxes, and dogs
  5. Natural predators that prey on penguins including seabirds, whales, and seals.

Penguins come in all sizes, from the large, Emperor penguin that weighs in at around 75 pounds and stands nearly four feet tall to the smaller, Little Blue penguins. This unique species will weigh only two pounds and grow to a height of only 16 inches. “Today, all species of penguins are legally protected from hunting and egg collecting.”

When owning a penguin can be legal

Even if you did establish a wildlife sanctuary and desired to buy and own a penguin as a pet, there are many government loopholes you would have to jump through. First, the penguin could not be one that is caught in the wild. Because these birds are on the endangered species list, the USDA would only allow you to keep one whose mother was in captivity already. 

After you’ve found a penguin that was born in captivity, there will be a ton of legal paperwork and permits that must be documented and approved. Even still, you would have to prove that the penguin will be kept in a safe and humane environment. This usually means this social bird that normally exists within groups would need at least a pairing with 1 or 2 other penguins.

Next, the penguin would require a suitable habitat with plenty of fresh vegetation, a regulated temperature, a large and deep, saltwater pool. And finally, you must have access to a skilled vet that can diagnose and treat any illnesses or infections such as Bird Flu, that may arise. 

The animals that can be legally imported, bred, researched, transported, exhibited, sold, or kept for personal or commercial use are detailed under the Animal Welfare Act(AWA),

Go Inside an Antarctic ‘City’ of 400,000 King Penguins

Impact of illegal wildlife trade

The trade of illegal wildlife affects the dwindling population of the world’s most beautiful and unique animals. Penguins are among them, but they also include the illegal killing or trading of elephants, pangolin, and tigers. Illegal wildlife trade also negatively affects human beings. It has been proven that the first SARS pandemic of the 21st century is linked to China’s “wet” markets where wild animals are handled, bought, and sold for pets, food, or superstition.

While all pets that human beings own are taken from their original or native environment to live a life of domestication, most of these pets have easy-going lifestyles and have benefited from their human caretakers. The list of domesticated animals is not a long one. It includes dogs, cats, pigs, horses, sheep, goats, chickens, and cows.

Some key features that determine whether an animal can be domesticated include :

  • Can they reproduce in captivity?
  • Are they gentle by nature?
  • They must not possess strong fight or flight tendencies
  • They must mature quickly to match the human’s short life span

The penguin simply doesn’t meet the criteria for an animal that is easily domesticated. They are pack animals and need at least 20 or more other penguins to group with. To keep a penguin as pet would also take an exceptional amount of fish, freshwater, and saltwater to survive. Even if you were to have a penguin as pet, it would mature very slowly and live for up to 15 or 20 years in captivity.

How much does a penguin cost?

Based on ads on the internet, penguin costs from $1000 to $22,000. You’ll need a female and male as they’re monogamous. Penguins can eat up to 400 to 500 pounds of fish annually and must be fed daily.

2 thoughts on “Can You Legally Buy and Own a Penguin as a Pet?”

  1. Actually, there are cold weather penguins and tropical penguins. Fairy penguins live in Australia where it is usually quite warm. The smaller penguin species usually prefer the warmer climes, while the larger species inhabit the colder reaches.


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