Exotic, Circus, and Zoo Animals

An exotic animal is any animal that is not domestic to North America.

The possession of wolf-dog hybrids, lions, tigers, cougars, cheetahs, leopards, jaguars, panthers, and bears is illegal in the state of Michigan.  This includes the importation of these animals, except under special exceptions.  Please call MDARD at 1-800-292-3939 for more information.

If the exotic, circus or zoo animal is one of the following species it must meet the movement requirements for that species:

Exotic, circus or zoo animals may also be regulated by other agencies or local authorities. Prior to movement, it is important to contact them to determine what requirements are in place.

  • Regulatory agency contacts:

    Fish and Wildlife Service of the United States Department of the Interior (800-344-WILD)

    Michigan Department of Natural Resources (517-284-WILD) 

Import Requirements:

  1. Exotic, circus or zoo animals must have an official interstate certificate of veterinary inspection filled out by a U.S. Department of Agriculture accredited veterinarian in the animal’s state of origin.

  2. For Elephants:

Category A elephants: Category A elephants are elephants that have never had a positive trunk washing, a positive DPP test or been known to be exposed to M. tuberculosis within the past five years.

For Category A elephants, the certificate of veterinary inspection (CVI) must contain the following statement:

“Elephant(s) listed have no known exposure to a M. tuberculosis within the past five years, and have never tested positive on the DPP test, nor have they ever received any type of antimycobacterial treatment.”

Additionally, Category A elephants must have the following test:

Negative culture from triple trunk washing done within the last 12 months prior to the date of entry into Michigan. This must be written on the interstate certificate of veterinary inspection.

If you would like to import a Category B and C elephant (see definitions below) please contact the MDARD Animal Industry Division at 800-292-3939.

Category B elephants: elephants which have never had a positive trunk washing, but have had a positive DPP test in the past or which have been exposed to M. tuberculosis within the past five years.

Category C elephants: elephants which at some time have had a positive trunk washing.

Exhibition (Show, demonstration or display) Requirements:

  1. There are no specific requirements for exotic animals moving within the state of Michigan (intrastate movement) for exhibition.

  2. Exotic, circus or zoo animals being imported from out-of-state (interstate movement) for exhibition must meet the following requirements:

    1. Be accompanied by an interstate CVI meeting the requirements stated above under Import Requirements.

    2. Elephants must meet the importation requirements for elephants stated above under Import Requirements.

  3. Large carnivores (lions, tigers, cougars, cheetahs, jaguars, leopards, panthers and bears) on display shall meet all of the following:

    1. The public cannot have any direct physical contact with large carnivores.

    2. Large carnivores over 20 weeks of age are required be confined far enough away from the public that the animals cannot pose a risk.

    3. The public is not allowed to touch, pet or hold large carnivores under 20 weeks of age.

      1. Exception: individuals in possession of a bear on March 26, 2013 or acquiring a business that was in possession of a bear on this date may allow direct contact with bears if the bear is less than 36 weeks of age or weighs 90 pounds or less.

    4. Meet or exceed to the standards in the Animal Welfare Act. For more information, contact the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal Care at 919-855-7100. Please note the person possessing the animals must possess and maintain a USDA Class C license.

    5. Not be bred.

    6. Not be sold, except as approved under state law. For information on when large carnivores can be sold, please contact

    7. Primary purpose of display is for education or exhibition.

  4. Contact the fair, show or exhibition authorities for any additional requirements

Intrastate Requirements:

  1. There are no specific requirements for intrastate movement of exotic animals.

Export Requirements:

  1. Please contact the state of destination.Contact information can be found at http://bit.ly/StateAHO.

  2. A person shall not export or attempt to export a lion, leopard, jaguar, tiger, cougar, panther, cheetah and/or any hybrid cross of any of the listed animals and/or a bear to another state or country unless all of the following requirements are met:

    1. The import and possession of the animal are lawful in the other state or country.

    2. The destination and proposed new owner of the animal have been approved by the regulatory agency in the other state or country having authority to do so, if any.

International movement:

Please contact the U.S. Department of Agriculture at 517-337-4700, Fish and Wildlife Service of the United States Department of the Interior (800-344-WILD) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (734) 955-6197.