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VERIFY: Can you have a Zebra as a pet in the DMV?

With Zebras on the loose in Maryland, people have turned to social media to ask whether it's even legal to have a pet zebra in the area.

WASHINGTON — It has been more than 50 days since three zebras escaped from a farm in Upper Marlboro, Maryland where they were being kept as part of a 40-member herd. Since then, one of the escapees has died while on the loose and another was found deceased back on the farm, prompting the owner to be charged with three counts of animal cruelty. 

Though the great zebra saga of 2021 has brought with it numerous questions, one of the most commonly asked is whether it's even legal to keep zebras as pets in the DMV. 

The Verify team turned to its experts to find out. 

THE QUESTION

Can you possess a Zebra in D.C., Maryland or Virginia?

THE SOURCES

  • D.C. Department of Health
  • D.C. Department of Energy and Environment
  • MD Department of Natural Resources
  • Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources

THE ANSWER

  • DC: No. Residents and visitors can't have zebras in the city.
  • MD: Yes. Maryland law does not prohibit zebras from being kept by an individual with a valid USDA permit to possess them.
  • VA: Maybe. Zebras are not illegal to possess in the Commonwealth and you don't need a permit to have one. However, you must check with your local jurisdiction because it might prohibit exotic animals.

WHAT WE FOUND

In late August, three zebras escaped from a herd that was moved onto the historic Bellefields Farm off Duley Station Road. Animal control workers in Prince George's County said they have successfully lured some of the loose zebras to an enclosure, but the ordeal isn't over yet.

The ongoing saga has left many people wondering if it's legal to possess zebras in our area.

According to the USDA, states and localities are empowered to create and enforce their own regulations pertaining to animal ownership and welfare. In fact, some zoning laws may prohibit the ownership of certain exotic animals.

VIRGINIA 

According to the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources, it's not illegal to have zebras in the Commonwealth and you don’t need a permit. 

However, the agency said many localities have stricter ordinances (usually zoning ordinances) that bar the possession of wildlife, both native and exotic, usually in residential areas

For example, in Falls Church, Virginia, the term "wild or exotic animals" means any animal except: 

  • Dogs
  • Cats
  • Hamsters
  • Gerbils
  • Guinea pigs
  • Ferrets
  • Turtles
  • Tortoises
  • Hermit crabs
  • Birds that are normally purchased through a pet store

In Fairfax, VA, "No person may lawfully keep or permit to be kept in Fairfax County, any live monkey (non-human primate), raccoon, skunk, wolf, squirrel, fox, leopard, panther, tiger, lion, lynx or any other warm-blooded animal, poisonous snake or tarantula, crocodile or alligator, which can normally be found in the wild state or any other member of the crocodilian, including but not limited to alligators, crocodiles, caimans and gavials," according to city ordinance. Certified service animals are an exception. 

In Virginia, permits are only required for someone to possess native/naturalized Virginia wildlife. There are some exotic (non-native) wildlife found on Virginia's prohibited species list like alligators and crocodiles.

Some migratory birds are also federally protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act

RELATED: 'Look at the belly' | Man working to save loose zebras says one may be pregnant

"Conservation Police Officers are constantly confiscating illegally held alligators from people," Virginia's State Wildlife Permits Manager, Randy Francis, said 

Since July, Francis said they've confiscated four illegally held alligators. The agency transfers confiscated alligators to a sanctuary in Florida. He said the goal is to get them to a zoo, so the alligators can live out their lives in relative freedom and in a relatively natural environment.

MARYLAND

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources says you can possess a zebra, but you need to have a valid U.S. Department of Agriculture permit.

But, before you run out and get a striped pet, check with your local officials because many jurisdictions, like Cecil County and Anne Arundel County for example, prohibit exotic animals.

D.C.

Both D.C. Health and the DC Department of Energy and Environment say no, residents cannot keep a zebra as a pet and visitors aren't allowed to have them either.

D.C. Official Code § 8-1808 says if an animal is not listed below, it's prohibited in the District: 

  • Domestic dogs, excluding hybrids with wolves, coyotes, or jackals
  • Domestic cats, excluding hybrids with ocelots or margays
  • Domesticated rodents and rabbits
  • Captive-bred species of common cage birds, including chickens
  • Non-venomous snakes, fish, and turtles, traditionally kept in the home for pleasure rather than for commercial purposes
  • Ferrets
  • Racing pigeons, when kept in compliance with permit requirements.

BornFreeUSA.org, an animal rights group, has more information on state laws and the private possession of exotic animals.

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