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Why Are Sugar Gliders Illegal in California?

September 25, 2020
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Sugar gliders are adorable little pocket pets that form strong bonds with their owners, can be relatively easy to care for, train, and they are very unique and uncommon pets in general. 

Owning a sugar glider is certainly a conversation starter and while these exotic animals might seem to be harmless, you might be surprised to know that they are actually banned as pets in quite a few US states.

Sugar gliders are illegal to own in California as they consider these exotic animals to be pests if they are released (or escape) into the wild and can be damaging to the native ecosystem. 

You might think this is a very strange and specific law and might even question whether or not they actually are illegal! In this article, we are going to run through why they are illegal in a bit more detail and also point out whether this law is likely to change in the near future. 

Are Sugar Gliders Illegal in California

Typically, a city or state will make owning, breeding, or selling a particular animal illegal for a number of legitimate reasons. These will primarily come down to a few of the following reasons:

  • The specific animal can harbor and transfer/spread diseases to a community.
  • The animal can cause a threat to the local ecosystem and disrupt the current habitats and food supply for native animals.
  • The animal is illegal in order to prevent animal trafficking for rare or endangered species.
  • The animal is seen as a threat and can have violent or dangerous tendencies (many times you’ll find this is a specific breed like how many perceive a pitbull to be an aggressive dog breed that can pose a threat to local children)

Now when it comes to a sugar glider, you might think that these seemingly innocent creatures offer no threat based on the above however, sugar gliders are actually illegal in California as well as a number of other cities and states within the US.

sugar glider

Why Are Sugar Gliders Illegal in California

There are a few reasons why sugar gliders could be illegal in California (as well as other states in the US like Hawaii, Alaska and Massachusetts) and many of the reasons are similar across states as well as being similar across other mammals/rodents that might surprise you including hedgehogs and ferrets. 

Sugar gliders are not known to carry disease, are not known to be a threat (except for perhaps biting their owners but nothing life threatening (a hamster can bite people too!), and while there are some cases of illegal activity in terms of trafficking and breeding they are still quite rare instances. 

Why then, are these small, pocket sized pets illegal to own in California?

The primary reason why sugar gliders are illegal in California is that they are considered pests when released into the wild as they cannot be rehomed/rehabbed in this non-native location. 

What this essentially means is that as sugar gliders are exotic animals and usually imported, they are not native to the local areas in California. Therefore, the government's viewpoint is that if these animals breed and are released into the wild they can be very damaging to the local ecosystem. 

This means that they could compete with local, established animals for habitat and food which in turn would be damaging to the ecosystem of the entire area. 

Should Sugar Gliders be Legal in California

If you look into this in more detail you’ll find that people have been creating petitions for a number of years to rack up support to make sugar gliders legal in California and some of these petitions have amassed hundreds of signatures. 

https://www.change.org/p/californial-state-legislators-legalize-sugar-gliders-as-pets-in-california

https://www.change.org/p/jerry-brown-make-sugar-gliders-legal-in-california

For such a unique and uncommon pet, that’s a lot of signatures and people in total that want to make sugar gliders legal in California. Of course, it’s not for us to decide whether or not a sugar glider should be made legal in California but one thing we certainly do want to point out is that it is a punishable offense if you try to buy or own one illegally. 

According to Californian laws on exotic pets, the penalties can include:

  • A civil fine of $500 – $10,000, plus the costs of the animal’s removal, storage and care, and/or
  • Criminal prosecution for a misdemeanor, punishable by up to 6 months in county jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000.

Source - Shouselaw

Therefore, even if you think it’s unjust or undeserved, California does take these laws quite seriously and this can lead to an illegal sugar glider being confiscated and euthanized (as well as facing some of the above punishments).

In Summary

As you can see from the above, while sugar gliders are illegal there are a few sources that want this law to be changed, Many feel that they are not adapted to survive in the wild in California and would be more likely to die within a few days rather than damaging the native ecosystem as the government claims. 

While this may be true and as petitions are being made to overturn, or at least reconsider amendments and exceptions to this law, it doesn’t look like it will change any time soon.

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