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Exotic, Circus, and Zoo Animals

General Information

An exotic animal is any animal that is not native to the United States.

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 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) 

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Coming into Michigan from Another State (import)

Note: if you are planning to exhibit an animal of this type, there may be additional rules. View exhibition rules here.

  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.
  • Please note that Michigan does not issue entry permits for exotic, circus, or zoo animals to be imported.  Therefore, no permit number is required to be written on the interstate certificate of veterinary inspection.
  1. 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.

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Exhibition (Show, Fair, Demonstration or Display) Requirements

  1. There are no specific requirements for exotic animals moving within the state of Michigan for exhibition.
  2. Exotic, circus or zoo animals being imported from out-of-state 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. Wolf-dog hybrids: The possession and ownership of wolf-dog hybrids is illegal in the state of Michigan, except under special exceptions. This includes the importation of these animals. Please call MDARD at 800-292-3939 for more information.
    4. Large carnivores (lions, tigers, cougars, cheetahs, jaguars, leopards, panthers, and bears) on display shall meet all of the following:
      1. Large carnivores over 20 weeks of age are required be confined far enough away from the public that the animals cannot pose a risk.
      2. The public is not allowed to touch, pet, or hold large carnivores under 20 weeks of age.
        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.
      3. Meet or exceed the care, housing, transport, and training requirements for animals in accordance with 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 and reside in Michigan. In the last five years, the class C licensee should not have had the USDA confiscate an animal, issue a finally determined direct or critical noncompliance, or issue a civil penalty—such as a cease-and-desist order, monetary penalty, or license suspension or revocation. For more information on licensure and the Animal Welfare Act, contact USDA at 970-494-7478.
      4. Not be bred, except under special exceptions. See MDARD’s Large Carnivore Breeding webpage or contact MDARD at 800-292-3939 for more information.
      5. Not be sold, unless being sold to another exhibitor who possesses and maintains a USDA Class C license and resides in Michigan.
      6. The primary purpose of the display is for education or exhibition.
  3. Contact the exhibition authorities for any additional requirements

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Moving within Michigan (intrastate)

Note: if you are planning to exhibit an animal of this type, there may be additional rules. View exhibition rules here.

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

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Leaving Michigan to go to Another State (export)

  1. Please contact the state of destination. AHO contact information by State.
  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:

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

b. 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.

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International Movement

With the exception of wolf-dog hybrids and large carnivores*, the State of Michigan has no specific international movement requirements for exotic animals. 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) to check for additional requirements.

*The importation and possession of wolf-dog hybrids and large carnivores is illegal in Michigan, except under special exceptions. If you are considering the importation of a wolf-dog hybrid or large carnivore, please call MDARD at 800-292-3939 for more information.

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