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Iguana Invasion

Exotic Pets Gone Wild in Florida

and what to do about them

Ball Python
Ball Python

Pets Gone Wild and the Law

The laws that should govern our interactions with non-native species can be confusing and vague. Here are some clear cut rules for residents of the state of Florida who may have issues with iguanas, pythons, Muscovy Ducks or other non-native pets on the loose in our yards and neighborhoods.

Exotic Animals Law: Here is the Florida law regulating non-native species like iguanas, pythons, monkeys, parrots, Muscovy Ducks, swans, etc.

372.265 Florida State Regulation of foreign animals:
  1. (1) It is unlawful to import for sale or use, or to release within this state, any species of the animal kingdom not indigenous to Florida without having obtained a permit to do so from the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

  2. (2) The Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is authorized to issue or deny such a permit upon the completion of studies of the species made by it to determine any detrimental effect the species might have on the ecology of the state.

  3. (3) Persons in violation of this section shall be guilty of a misdemeanor of the first degree, punishable as provided in s.775.082 or s.775.083.
Note that s.775.082 provides a definite term of imprisonment of up to 1 year; and s.775.083 provides a fine of up to $1000.

Iguanas and other invasive pet species are protected by anticruelty laws. Here is the Florida State Regulation that defines animal abuse as a felony.

Florida Statutes s.828.12 provides:

A person who intentionally commits an act to any animal which results in the cruel death, or excessive or repeated infliction of unnecessary pain or suffering, or causes the same to be done, punishable as provided in s.775.082 or by a fine of not more than $10,000.

Is it legal to shoot an iguana in my yard?

In the state of Florida, it is not legal or safe to discharge firearms or pellet guns in suburban or urban areas, so residents cannot legally shoot nuisance animals like iguanas or Muscovy Ducks.

The state of Florida prohibits county, city and other jurisdictional laws for firearms except for county gun show ordinances. Therefore, the state gun laws apply in every city and county.

Here is some information about Florida gun laws:

The state of Florida does not require a license or permit to PURCHASE a firearm (rifle, shotgun, or handgun) from a gun dealer. All buyers must be residents of the state of Florida with valid identification. An instant background check with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement will be conducted. There is a 3-day waiting period to purchase a handgun from a retail establishment. All buyers must be at least 18 years of age to purchase a rifle or shotgun, and at least 21 to purchase a handgun.

It is a crime to transfer a firearm to an underaged person, or to a person otherwise disqualified. It is unlawful for the following disqualified persons to buy or possess any firearm: convicted felons (unless civil rights have been restored); drug addicts, alcoholics, mental incompetents, and vagrants; any person who has been issued a final injunction currently in force and effect restraining that person from committing acts of domestic violence.

There are specific regulations for CARRYING firearms, which cannot be openly displayed and require permitting for concealment. An application for a license to carry a handgun must be completed under oath on a federal form. The government will not issue a license if the applicant is ineligible. Applicants must be a US citizen and at least 21 years of age; they can not suffer from a physical or mental infirmity which prevents safe handling of the firearm, nor can they be a convicted felon, an alcoholic, currently under any injunction restraining them from acts of violence; they cannot have been convicted within the previous three years of any drug offense or violent crime including domestic violence.

In the state of Florida, it is unlawful to discharge a firearm in any public place, or on the right of way of any paved public road, highway, or street, or in any occupied building except in defense of life or property or in performance of official duties, or where expressly approved for hunting.


Florida Laws Pertaining to Private Possession of Exotic Wildlife:

In the state of Florida, there is a ban on private ownership of certain exotic animal species. Ownership of certain other species necessitates permits and registration of animals with the state and local authorities. The regulations are changing in response to growing problems with exotic animals breeding in the wild.

It is against the law to possess Class I Wildlife unless the animal was in possession prior to August 1, 1980.

It is against the law to possess Class II and III Wildlife without a permit from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Possession of Class I, II and III Wildlife is governed by specific regulations regarding caging requirements and other factors (see below).

The Florida Administrative Code, Statutes 68A-6.002, 68A-6.0021, and 68A-6.0022, address the categories of wildlife, possession and transfer of wildlife, and permit requirements.

Class I Wildlife pose a significant threat to humans and include the following: chimpanzees, gorillas, gibbons, drills and mandrills, orangutans, baboons, Siamangs, Gelada Baboons, Snow Leopards, leopards, Jaguars, Tigers, Lions, bears, rhinoceros, elephants, hippopotamuses, African or Cape Buffalos, crocodiles (except Dwarf), gavials, Black Caimans, Komodo Dragons.

Class II Wildlife can also pose a significant threat to humans and include the following: howler monkeys, uakaris, mangabeys, guenons, Bearded Sakis, Guerezas, Celebes Black Apes, Indris, macaques, langurs, doucs, Tonkin Snub-nosed Langurs, Proboscis Monkeys, Servals, European and Canadian Lynx, Cougars, panthers, Bobcats, Cheetahs, Caracals, African Golden Cats, Temminck’s Golden Cats, Fishing Cats, Ocelots, Clouded Leopards, Coyotes, Gray Wolves (including wolf x domestic hybrids which are 25% or less domestic dog), Red Wolves (including wolf x domestic hybrids which are 25% or less domestic dog), Asiatic Jackals, Black-backed Jackals, Dholes (Indian Wild Dogs), African Hunting Dogs, Wolverines, Honey Badgers, American Badgers, Old World Badgers, Binturongs, hyenas, Dwarf Crocodiles, alligators other than the protected American Alligator, caimans, Ostriches, cassowaries.

Class III Wildlife includes all species of non-native wildlife not listed as Class I or Class II. This includes all non-native venomous reptiles and those species identified as Reptiles of Concern. If possessed for personal use, non-native venomous reptiles and Reptiles of Concern must be permitted, registered and permanently identified. Permits cost $100 per pet. Reptiles of Concern: Burmese Python, Reticulated Python, African Rock Python, Scrub Python, Green Anaconda, Nile Monitor. Anyone possessing non-native venomous reptiles or Reptiles of Concern must have on hand a Captive Wildlife Critical Incident and Disaster Plan prepared according to FWC guidelines. The plan must outline how pet owners will secure or evacuate animals in the event of a natural disaster or other crisis, and include bite or exposure protocol.

No permits needed for certain non-native Class III species. The following wildlife species do not require permitting for possession for personal use: amphibians and reptiles not of concern (also nonvenomous and unprotected by the state), hedgehogs, Honey Possums, Sugar Gliders, Brushtail Possums, rats and mice, moles, shrews, rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks, ferrets, gerbils, Guinea Pigs, hamsters, shell parakeets (Budgerigars), lovebirds, Cockatiels, Canaries, parrots, finches, myna birds, toucans, Diamond Doves, Ringed Turtle Doves, Ruddy Ground Doves, buttonquail, prairie dogs, chinchillas.

Camels, llamas, wild horses, jungle fowl, common guineafowl and peafowl are classified as domesticated and do not require permitting.

The following Class III wildlife species do not require a permit to sell: poultry, hamsters, Guinea Pigs, domestic rats and mice, gerbils, chameleons.

Permits to possess Class III Wildlife are only issued to persons 16 years of age or older. Applicants must complete a questionnaire to show knowledge of general husbandry, nutritional needs, behaviors. Special caging requirements must be met. Applicants must show that the conditions in which the wildlife will be kept do not constitute a threat to the public or the animal. Anyone possessing venomous reptiles must mark the cage or enclosure with a sign stating "Dangerous Venomous Reptile" and providing species identification. Location of antivenin must be given in a Captive Wildlife Critical Incident and Disaster Plan that meets FWC guidelines.

Permits to possess Class I and Class II Wildlife are only issued to persons 18 years of age or older. Applicants may not have been convicted of any violation of captive wildlife regulations, any offense involving the illegal commercialization of wildlife, or offenses involving cruelty to animals, within 3 years of application.

Permits to possess Class I Wildlife are only issued to applicants who demonstrate no less than 1 year of substantial practical experience (no less than 1000 hours) in the care, feeding, handling and husbandry of the species for which the permit is sought or similar species. Documentation and references must be submitted for approval. Documented educational experience in zoology or other relevant sciences from colleges can be substituted for up to 500 hours of the required experience.

Permits to possess Class II Wildlife are only issued to applicants who document 1 year (1000 hours) of experience, or take a written exam and document 100 hours of experience with the species for which the permit is sought. A score of 80 percent or higher on the exam is required.

Permits to possess Class I and II Wildlife are not issued until after the facility at which the captive wildlife will be maintained has been inspected and approved. Documentation must be supplied verifying that the construction of the facility, cages and enclosures meets municipal laws and county laws.

Class I Wildlife cannot be possessed on a property within an area zoned solely for residential use, or on premises of less than 5 acres of land area.

Class II Wildlife cannot be possessed on a property of less than 2 1/2 acres of land area.

Escape of Class I or Class II Wildlife or Reptiles of Concern must be reported to the FWC Division of Law Enforcement as soon as it occurs.

As of July 1, 2007, Red-eared Slider Turtles were classified as a Conditional Species. Permits will not be issued for personal use. New regulations prohibit ownership for personal use of a Red-eared Slider Turtle less than 4 inches in length. All Red-eared Sliders owned before the new rules went into effect must not be allowed to breed; all eggs must be destroyed. Other Conditional Species include Nutria and certain species of fish.

Possession for personal use of Prohibited Species are not allowed in the state of Florida. Prohibited Species include: Gambian Pouch Rats, African electric catfishes, African tigerfishes, air-breathing catfishes, freshwater electric eels, lampreys, piranhas, snakeheads, most tilapias, Green Sunfish, Australian Crayfish, Zebra Mussels, mitten crabs, sea snakes, weaverfishes and stonefishes.

Permit violations and other infractions of the laws related to captive wildlife will result in fines and time in jail. Repeat violations can lead to fines of up to $5000 and up to 5 years in jail. Repeated violators may be charged with a felony.

In summary, the exotic pet issue is a matter of private property rights versus government regulation of nuisance animals and protection of the environment, public health and safety. Federal law includes the 2003 Captive Wildlife Safety Law which prohibits interstate commerce in the big cats. If modified, this law could limit the numbers and kinds of other wild animals sold by the pet trade in the U.S. Currently, different states have different laws regarding exotic pets. More than a dozen states have complete bans on the import of most exotic pet species, prohibiting private ownership of captive wildlife. California, for example, bans all import, transport, and possession of captive wild animals for personal use.

Florida laws are modified on a regular basis as the state tries to provide a balance between the pet industry, environmental concerns, and residents complaining about exotic animals on the loose.


U.S. Laws Pertaining to Import and Export of Wildlife: All wildlife imported to or exported from the U.S. for any purpose must be declared to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and cleared prior to release by U.S. Customs and Border Protection or prior to consignment for export. The proper form (3-177: Declaration for Importation or Exportation of Fish and Wildlife) must be submitted and on file with FWS.

In the state of Florida, no person, firm, corporation or association may display or sell any wildlife, native or non-native, without having first secured a permit from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) authorizing the possession in captivity of the species and number of wildlife specified within the permit.

FWS has established a system of U.S. ports to allow the import and export of wildlife. Specific designated ports are the only ones used for all movement of wildlife into and out of the U.S. The Port of Miami is a designated import port for wildlife. Since 1985, the Port of Tampa has been used as a non-designated export port for wildlife. Most of the export inventory in Tampa is tropical fish, but reptiles are also common.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has a list of Injurious Species deemed harmful to humans and the environment. Pythons are not on this list, so Florida legislators have requested the consideration of certain snake species for inclusion on the Injurious Species list. Concerned citizens’ groups have advocated for the expansion of this federal list to include the species causing problems in Florida.


H.R. 669: In 2009, the Nonnative Wildlife Invasion Prevention Act was introduced with the aim of reducing the negative impact of invasive species on the economy, environment, other animal species and human health. The Act would have established prohibitions on:
  1. (1) importation or transportation between states of non-native species that are not included on the list of approved species
  2. (2) permit violations
  3. (3) possession, purchase, sale, barter, release, or breeding of such species
The bill did not become law, but it may be reintroduced in a future session of Congress.


For further information on laws related to pets gone wild in Florida, go to:
  • www.calusaherp.org/business/laws.htm
  • www.edis.ifas.ufl.edu
  • www.flsenate.gov/Statutes
  • www.crime.about.com
  • www.bornfreeusa.org
  • www.fws.gov/southeast/law/lepermits.htm
  • www.myfwc.com
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New book:

Iguana Invasion! Exotic Pets Gone Wild in Florida

by Virginia Aronson and Allyn Szejko

Available at your local bookseller, Amazon.com, Barnes&Noble.com, and Pineapple Press.

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