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Could your neighbor run a private zoo in their backyard, like Tiger King, or like the one in Ohio that made national news?

(Note: This post references a major news story from 2011 where an Ohio man owned a bunch of lions & tigers in his private zoo, and he released them before committing suicide. This is still an accurate reflection of Maryland law in 2019.)

If you live in Maryland, the answer is probably no.

So chances are your Maryland neighbor cannot legally have lions, tigers and bears (oh my!).

However, I have to use the word “probably.”

There is one big exception to the general ban on dangerous animals in Maryland, which I will discuss below. I will also give you the full list of banned animals.

The guy in Ohio did not technically run a zoo. A zoo is technically a collection of animals held for exhibition to the public. Zoos are regulated by federal and state law. This guy ran his own private exotic animal collection.

Surprisingly, the laws in many states do not regulate this type of activity. Ohio does not. The closest states to Maryland that do not are West Virginia, and North & South Carolina.

So in Ohio, this guy was perfectly within his legal rights to keep the 18 tigers and 17 lions that he let loose on his neighbors yesterday.

That must have been a very scary situation for the neighbors. They had to live next to that nut for years wondering if his pet tigers were going to greet them at the front door one day!

Maryland has a law against the private ownership of “exotic” animals. That alone would prevent this sort of activity.

What’s on the list? Probably most animals you would not want your neighbor to own. I am not enough of an animal expert to know this covers all the dangerous animals. I know, for instance, there are several species of snakes like boa constrictors and pythons that are legal in Maryland and people do own them. I don’t want them in my back yard either.

The Maryland Criminal Code (Section 10-621) prohibits the private ownership of these animals: fox, skunk, raccoon, bear; caiman, alligator, crocodile, member of the cat family other than the domestic cat (which would exclude the lions and tigers), hybrid of a member of the cat family and a domestic cat if the hybrid weighs over 30 pounds, member of the dog family other than the domestic dog, hybrid of a member of the dog family and a domestic dog, nonhuman primate, including a lemur, monkey, chimpanzee, gorilla, orangutan, marmoset, loris, or tamarin, and poisonous snakes in the family groups of Hydrophidae, Elapidae, Viperidae, or Crotolidae.

OK. So Am I Safe?

Wellllllllllll . . . Probably.

Why do I say your neighbor “probably” doesn’t own dangerous exotic animals?

Because the law here came into effect in 2006, and there is an exception for anyone owning a banned animal before May 31, 2006, as long as they provide notice to the local county animal control authority.

So if your neighbor had a tiger or cobra before 2006, they could still legally own it as long as they gave the required notice. And you can find out by calling your local county animal control authority.

Next Steps

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