Release of Wild Animal Species and Exotic Pet Species

Comment on this policy

The AVMA acknowledges that ownership and possession of wild animal species and exotic pet species are legally permitted and that there are laws and regulations at international, federal, state, and local levels addressing both. The AVMA also understands that circumstances may arise in which caregivers of such animals may no longer keep them (e.g. caregivers find themselves unable to provide the care required for the animals, realize that the animals are not suitable for captivity, or discover that possession of these animals is illegal). Caregivers who find themselves in such situations must not jeopardize the welfare of the animals involved nor increase the risks that their animals pose to people, other animals, or ecosystems.


  • No wild animal species or exotic pet species, once in captivity, should be released into the environment (aquatic or terrestrial) unless specifically authorized by  the regulatory authorities with oversight; 
  • Caregivers who find themselves no longer able or authorized to keep their wild animal species or exotic pet species must work with the appropriate authorities (e.g., State, Federal, or Tribal wildlife agencies) or legally authorized and qualified organizations (e.g., wildlife sanctuaries, zoos, or aquariums that are covered by the Animal Welfare Act or that are accredited) for proper disposition; and
  • The AVMA supports the adoption and enforcement of reasonable regulations pertaining to owners and caregivers of wild animal species and exotic pet species.


  • Accredited wildlife sanctuary: A facility that cares for wildlife species and that incorporates all of the following conditions:
    • Meets or exceeds regulatory oversight standards (e.g. 50 CFR §14.252, Animal Welfare Act, relevant state and local statutes),

    • Meets or exceeds relevant accrediting bodies’ standards of care (e. g. nutrition, veterinary medical care, and environmental enrichment),

    • Is approved by the relevant regulatory agencies and accrediting bodies with jurisdiction, and

    • Is subject to external inspection.

  • Exotic pet species:  A wide range of pet species other than domestic dogs, cats, and equids which may be native or nonnative to the United States. 
  • Risk: Threats posed by these animals, which may serve as a reservoir and/or vector for transmission of infectious agents or which may otherwise cause direct or indirect harm to humans, other animals, the environment, or wild populations of the same or related species.
  • Wild animal:  Animal species that, whether or not raised in captivity, are normally found in a wild state; these species may be native or nonnative to the United States, may not yet have been subjected to domestication, or may be in the process of being domesticated.


Relevant AVMA Policy: