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Tennessee State Laws Governing Private Possession of Exotic Animals

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TENN. CODE ANN §70-4-401 - Prohibited acts.

(a) It is unlawful for any person to possess, transport, import, export, buy, sell, barter, propagate or transfer any wildlife, whether indigenous to this state or not, except as provided by this part and rules and regulations promulgated by the Tennessee wildlife resources commission pursuant to this part.

(b) No person shall possess Class I or Class II wildlife without having documentary evidence showing the name and address of the supplier of such wildlife and date of acquisition.


TENN. CODE ANN §70-4-403 - Classifications of wildlife.

Live wildlife, kept and maintained for any purpose, shall be classified in the following five (5) classes:

(1) Class I - This class includes all species inherently dangerous to humans. These species may only be possessed by zoos, circuses and commercial propagators, except as otherwise provided in this part. The commission, in conjunction with the commissioner of agriculture, may add or delete species from the list of Class I wildlife by promulgating rules and regulations. The following is a listing of animals considered inherently dangerous:

(A) Mammals:

(i) Primates - Gorillas, orangutans, chimpanzees, gibbons, siamangs, mandrills, drills, baboons, Gelada baboons;

(ii) Carnivores:

(a) Wolves - All species;

(b) Bears - All species; and

(c) Lions, tigers, leopards, jaguars, cheetahs, cougars - All species;

(iii) Order Proboscidia: Elephants - All species;

(iv) Order Perissodactyla: Rhinoceroses - All species; and

(v) Order Artiodactyla: Hippopotamus, African buffalo;

(B) Reptiles:

(i) Order Crocodylia: Crocodiles and alligators - All species; and

(ii) Order Serpentes: Snakes - All poisonous species; and

(C) Amphibians: All poisonous species;

(2) Class II - This class includes native species, except those listed in other classes;

(3) Class III - This class requires no permits except those required by the department of agriculture, and includes all species not listed in other classes and includes, but is not limited to, those listed in subdivisions (3)(A)-(Q). The commission, in conjunction with the commissioner of agriculture, may add or delete species from the list of Class III wildlife by promulgating rules and regulations:

(A) Nonpoisonous reptiles and amphibians;

(B) Rodents - Gerbils, hamsters, guinea pigs, rats, mice, squirrels and chipmunks;

(C) Rabbits, hares, moles and shrews;

(D) Ferrets and chinchillas;

(E) Llamas, alpacas, guanacos, vicunas, camels, giraffes and bison;

(F) Avian species not otherwise listed, excluding North American game birds, ostriches and cassowary;

(G) Semi-domestic hogs, sheep and goats;

(H) All fish held in aquaria;

(I) Bovidae not otherwise listed;

(J) Marsupials;

(K) Common domestic farm animals;

(L) Equidae;

(M) Primates not otherwise listed;

(N) Bobcat/domestic cat hybrids;

(O) Hybrids resulting from a cross between a Class II species and a domestic animal or Class III species;

(P) Cervidae except white-tailed deer; and

(Q) Furbearing mammals, including those native to Tennessee, raised solely for the sale of fur;

(4) Class IV - This class includes those native species that may be possessed only by zoos and temporary exhibitors; provided, that rehabilitation facilities may possess Class IV wildlife as provided by rules established by the commission if authorized by a letter from the director of the agency:

(A) Black bear (Ursus americanus);

(B) White-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus);

(C) Wild turkey (Meleagris gallapavo) (including the eggs thereof);

(D) [Deleted by 1996 amendment.]

(E) Hybrids of a Class IV species other than bobcat shall be Class IV; and

(F) Animals that are morphologically indistinguishable from native Class IV wildlife shall be Class IV; and

(5) Class V - This class includes such species that the commission, in conjunction with the commissioner of agriculture, may designate by rules and regulations as injurious to the environment. Species so designated may only be held in zoos under such conditions as to prevent the release or escape of such wildlife into the environment.


TENN. CODE ANN §70-4-404 - Permits - Fees.

(a) The agency shall issue permits for possessing live wildlife as defined in this part.

(b)(1) The commission shall adopt reasonable rules for issuing permits to possess live wildlife and establishing the conditions thereof. The conditions shall be directed toward assuring the health, welfare, and safety of animals, the public and, where necessary, the security of facilities in which the animals are kept.

(2) The executive director of the agency may authorize by letter permission to possess any class of wildlife for approved research studies or for the temporary holding of animals in the interest of public safety. The executive director may exempt specific events from the caging and handling requirements established for Class I wildlife. Approval of an exemption will be based on a written request that outlines safety precautions that must be implemented during the specified activity.

(c) Class I wildlife.

(1) Persons legally possessing Class I wildlife prior to June 25, 1991, shall obtain annually a personal possession permit to keep such Class I wildlife. To obtain a personal possession permit, such persons shall comply with all of the provisions of this part. After June 25, 1991, no new animals shall be brought into possession under authority of a personal possession permit. Persons in legal possession of one (1) or more species of Class I wildlife as of June 25, 1991, may maintain the lineage of such species up to a maximum of three (3) animals per species. Persons in legal possession of the offspring of such Class I wildlife shall have a maximum of twelve (12) months from the date of birth of such offspring to obtain appropriate permits for such offspring, or to dispose of such offspring through an appropriate commercial propagator, or by any other manner permitted by law within the state. The provisions of this section apply solely to persons in legal possession of Class I wildlife as of June 25, 1991, and shall not be construed to authorize new personal possession of Class I wildlife.

(2) The executive director shall issue a permit upon a satisfactory showing of qualifications to possess live wildlife under the following conditions:

(A) The applicant must be at least twenty-one (21) years of age;

(B) The applicant must have at least two (2) years of experience in the handling or care of the Class I species for which the applicant is applying, or, in the alternative, must take a written examination, developed and administered by the agency, evidencing basic knowledge of the habits and requirements, in regard to proper diet, health care, exercise needs and housing of the species to be covered by the permit. Experience gained while in violation of this part shall not be considered qualifying experience;

(C) The facilities for holding Class I wildlife must be located on the premises on which the permit holder resides or shall have a full-time resident caretaker to supervise the care and security of the facilities. Facilities for Class I animals may not be on premises of less than one (1) acre for a personal possession permit and three (3) acres for a commercial propagator facility permit, and may not be located in a multi-unit dwelling or trailer park; and

(D) The applicant must have a plan for the quick and safe recapture of the wildlife, or if recapture is impossible, for the destruction of any animal held under the permit. The applicant must have the legal authority to possess weapons or other equipment necessary to carry out the plan and, in fact, possess such weapons or other equipment.

(3) The permittee shall control and maintain Class I wildlife at all times in such a manner as to prevent direct exposure or contact between the animal(s) and the public; provided, that a trained elephant may be brought into contact with the public under the close supervision of a qualified trainer or handler.

(d) No person shall hold live wildlife in captivity without first obtaining the appropriate permit as provided in this part. The annual permits and fees for holding live wildlife are as follows:

(1)(A) PERSONAL POSSESSION. Class I: $150/animal or $1,000/facility; and (B) Class II: $10.00/animal or $100/facility;

(2) TRANSFER OF OWNERSHIP. A permit for transferring any Class I or II animal held under a personal possession permit. If the transfer of the animal is ordered by the agency, no transfer permit is required;

(3) COMMERCIAL PROPAGATOR. $1,000/facility for Class I wildlife;

(4) PROPAGATOR $25.00/facility for small game birds and waterfowl; and $100/facility for all Class II wildlife except small game birds and waterfowl;

(5) IMPORTATION. $10.00/shipment or $100 per year;

(6) TEMPORARY EXHIBITOR. $100/30 day period;

(7) PERMANENT EXHIBITOR. $500/year/facility;

(8) COMMERCIAL WILDLIFE PRESERVE. $150/year for big game; and $75.00/year for small game;

(9) FALCONRY. $40.00/year or other time period as might coincide with federal permit requirements;

(10) QUALIFICATION EXAMINATION. $10.00/examination; and

(11) ZOOS, NATURE CENTERS, REHABILITATION CENTERS, AND EDUCATIONAL EXHIBITS CERTIFIED AS NONPROFIT. No charge.

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