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Home > Birds > Can You Keep a Penguin as a Pet? Legal Considerations & More

Can You Keep a Penguin as a Pet? Legal Considerations & More

Aquatic penguin as a pet

Let’s face it, penguins are some of the cutest animals on earth. No one skips the penguin exhibit at the zoo. It’s usually more packed than almost any other display! But cute animals don’t always equate to good pets.

In this case, penguins could be one of the worst pets ever. This is due to a variety of factors, including excessive care needs, massive appetites, and social needs that necessitate a pack of 20 or more birds, not to mention the insane illegality of owning a penguin. Sorry if this dashed your hopes of keeping a penguin as a pet, but if you’d like to learn more about why this isn’t possible or legal, then keep reading.


Is Owning Exotic Animals Legal?

Penguins are considered exotic animals. Now, that doesn’t necessarily make them illegal to own. There are many exotic animals that are perfectly legal to keep as pets in the United States. Granted, some of these animals will require you to get permits and prove you have proper accommodations for them. Furthermore, laws regarding the sale, possession, and purchase of exotic animals differ from state to state.

Some other exotic animals that you can keep under certain circumstances include Chimpanzees and Wallabies. Bearded dragons and hedgehogs are even considered to be exotic animals, but you can keep them without any permits or special paperwork.

However, penguins are not one of these species. The laws regarding penguins are far stricter than with other exotic animals, not just in the US, but in the entire world. Suffice to say that penguins are definitely illegal to keep as pets in America.

pack of penguins in antartica
Image Credit: Pixabay

Penguin Protection

The United States, along with many other countries, is part of an agreement known as the Antarctic Treaty that governs how Antarctica is used. There’s a part of the treaty called the Protocol on Environmental Protection. In this part of the Antarctic Treaty, rules are laid out regarding the protection of penguins.

Penguins have long been hunted for many reasons. They were killed for food, oil, and their fat, which makes a great fuel source. Climate change also affects penguins more than many other species. Because of these factors, possession and trade of these birds is outlawed in the Antarctic Treaty.


The 5 Things You Must Know About Keeping Penguins as Pets

If you’ve been thinking about how cool it might be to have a pet penguin, you might think again after learning these five things about keeping penguins as pets.

1. Penguin Trade Is Highly Regulated

Thanks to the Antarctic Treaty, the penguin trade is effectively illegal the world over. This isn’t just a US law, it’s something that countries across the globe agreed to. You’ll be facing some serious trouble if you somehow managed to get your hands on a penguin, which would be near-impossible anyway.

2. Many Penguins Are Endangered

Image Credit: Pixabay

11 of the 18 penguin species are on the endangered species list. As you likely know, killing, possessing, capturing, or having pretty much anything to do with a species that’s on the endangered list is a major offense that could see your freedom taken away in an instant.

3. Penguins Are Pack Animals

emperor penguines
Image By: Pixabay

Even if you could keep penguins as pets, it would be insanely difficult for many reasons. These birds are pack animals, and they must be kept in groups of at least 20 for their social and mental health. You might have enough space for a single penguin, but keeping 20 means you’ll need an Olympic-sized swimming pool just for them to swim in.

4. Most Penguins Require Excessive Care

Humboldt Penguin swimming
Image By: Pixabay

It’s not just the space needs of caring for 20 or more birds that makes keeping penguins practically impossible. You’ll also need to keep their area at a constant 30-40 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s going to be an outrageous cooling bill! And the cleaning system your pool will require is industrial, which is far beyond the scope of a standard residential swimming pool.

5. They Eat Up to 500 Pounds of Fish Each Year

penguin eating fish
Image By: Pixabay

As if caring for penguins wasn’t hard enough already, we haven’t even talked about their voracious appetites. Those 20 penguins will eat five solid tons of fish each year. Can you catch that many fish annually? Of course not! And can you imagine the expense of purchasing so many fish? Don’t forget the incredible mess that will leave behind; a stinky, nasty mess that you’ll have to clean every day!

chicken feet divider


Penguins are adorable and interesting creatures. They’re a ton of fun to watch and they fill you with the overwhelming desire to hold them. But you should stick to viewing these birds at the zoo and in nature documentaries. The reality of keeping penguins as pets is that it’s not feasible, and it’s certainly not legal. So, put on Happy Feet to get your fix of penguins, because you won’t be keeping one as a pet anytime soon.

Learn about other interesting exotic pets:

Featured Image Credit: Pixabay

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