Animals you probably didn’t know you could own in Tennessee

Local News

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – A new development in a bizarre story. Over the weeekend, neighbors in the Wheel Community of Bedford County found remains of what looked like an alligator.

The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency now say it was actually a dwarf caiman carcass.

Dwarf caiman is an animal that is legal to own in Tennessee. Alligators are not.

One mystery solved, but a couple more remain.

Where did the caimen come from?

Captain Walter Cook with the TWRA says the owners had some permits through his office for some native animals and “they acquired animals.”

Two of those animals were dwarf caimans, one of which escaped from its enclose and was hit by a car and died.

“They’re legal with the county, legal with us,” said Cook. “Caimans are legal because the pet industry in 1991 asked caimans to be taken out of classification I, which is illegal to possess outside of a zoo. They argue they don’t get that large and have very common pet traits with no problems.”

From hooves to beaks, tails to claws, what’s legal to own in Tennessee and what’s not?

Tennessee’s exotic animal law places wildlife into five classifications.

Class I: This class includes all species inherently dangerous to humans. All of the Class I animals are illegal when it comes to personal possession.

  • Primates: Gorillas, orangutans, chimpanzees, gibbons, siamangs, mandrills, drills, baboons, Gelada baboons
  • Wolves: All species
  • Bears: All species
  • Lions, tigers, leopards, jaguars, cheetahs, cougars: All species
  • Elephants: All species
  • Rhinoceroses: All species
  • Hippopotamus
  • African buffalo
  • Crocodiles and alligators: All species
  • Snakes: All poisonous species
  • Amphibians: All poisonous species

Class II: This class includes native species, except those listed in other classes.

Class III: This class requires no permits except those required by the department of agriculture, and includes all species not listed in other classes.

  • Nonpoisonous reptiles and amphibians except caimans and gavials
  • Rodents: Gerbils, hamsters, guinea pigs, rats, mice, squirrels and chipmunks
  • Rabbits, hares, moles and shrews
  • Ferrets and chinchillas
  • Llamas, alpacas, guanacos, vicunas, camels, giraffes and bison
  • Avian species not otherwise listed, excluding North American game birds, ostriches and cassowary
  • Semi-domestic hogs, sheep and goats
  • All fish held in aquaria
  • Bovidae not otherwise listed
  • Marsupials
  • Common domestic farm animals
  • Equidae
  • Primates not otherwise listed
  • Bobcat/domestic cat hybrids
  • Hybrids resulting from a cross between a Class II species and a domestic animal or Class III species
  • Cervidae, except white-tailed deer and wild elk. Elk originating from a legal source while held in captivity for the purpose of farming shall be regarded as Class III wildlife. All other elk shall be wild elk and shall be regarded as Class II wildlife. No person shall possess elk in captivity within the eastern grand division of the state as defined in § 4-1-202 without having documentary evidence indicating the origin of the elk being held. This documentary evidence will be presented to the agents of the department of agriculture or the wildlife resource agency upon request. Sale documentation of offspring of purchased elk is not required
  • Furbearing mammals, including those native to Tennessee, raised solely for the sale of fur

Yes, that’s right – Ostriches, giraffes and camels are all legal to own.

Class IV: This class includes those native species that may be possessed only by zoos.

  • Black bear
  • White-tailed deer
  • Wild turkey including the eggs of wild turkey;
  • Hybrids of a Class IV species, other than bobcat
  • Animals that are morphologically indistinguishable from native Class IV wildlife

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.

TWRA is still unaware how the caiman escaped, but say the rest of the animals in the owners’ possession have been placed with new families. Every animal these owners had was completely legal, News 2 was told.

“There’s been no violation and we clarified the matter.”

Keep in mind, it is not legal to take an animal out of the wild and keep it as a pet.

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