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Is It Legal to Release a Wild Animal?

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By Christopher Coble, Esq. on May 15, 2015 9:55 AM

More and more people are trying to keep wild animals as pets, only to find them not as friendly when they're full grown. Sometimes people come across injured wildlife while hiking, camping, or even in our own backyards.

And sometimes folks are just trying to get rid of a nuisance.

However you obtained a wild animal, you might want to be careful about releasing it. Many states have enacted strict laws regarding the possession, sale, and release of wild or exotic animals, so here are a few things to keep in mind:

The Safety of the Animal

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) recommends that "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." While recognizing that people may come into possession of wild animals with the best intentions, and possessing exotic pets may be legal in some jurisdictions, when it comes to reintroducing animals into the wild, it's best to let the experts handle it.

Simply releasing any animal into a wild environment can be dangerous not only for the animal itself, but for other species as well. A released or relocated animal could have trouble finding food, may be carrying an undetected disease or virus, or may become invasive -- killing or crowding out other species from their natural habitat.

The AVMA recommends contacting state, federal, or tribal wildlife agencies, or even local organizations like wildlife rescues, sanctuaries, or zoos before releasing any animal into the wild.

The Legality of the Release

Even if you could ensure the safety of the wild animal, federal law and nearly every state criminalizes the relocation and release of wild animals. Here are just a few examples of state ordinances regarding wild animals:

As you can see, specific state statutes can vary, and state wildlife agencies will be able to best advise you about both the law and the safest means for releasing a wild animal. So make sure you contact local authorities to ensure any release of a wild animal is safe, humane, and legal.

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