Are sand cats legal in California?

The thing about sand cats is that they look like domestic cats. They look very cute and their appearance gives people the impression that they might make a nice, exotic pet. But this is an impression and it is not the reality, unfortunately. This is a wild cat, just as wild as any other wild cat species. They can make some pretty strange sounds and not your typical meow. You would be likely to have difficulty in looking after a small wild cat like this. They might spray urine onto walls and furniture et cetera. They would want to escape your home. Don’t forget that their home range in desert conditions would be quite large at many square kilometres. And they are the only true desert cat with many adaptations. You can’t replicate those conditions. The confines of a home, even a garden enclosure would be insufficient to allow them to behave naturally and feel normal.

California decided to work on a permit basis for the possession of exotic animals. What I mean is they don’t ban them outright and neither do they allow them to be owned outright. They have taken an intermediate stance.

Sand cat at home
Sand cat at home. Not possible I am afraid. Image: PoC.
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles:- Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

Provided you have a permit issued by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, it is legal to own and possess a sand cat in California. The law: 14 CCR § 671. Importation, Transportation and Possession of Live Restricted Animals, states: “It shall be unlawful to import, transport, or possess live animals restricted in subsection (c) below except under permit issued by the department.”

The subsection referred to in respect of cats in general is:

1. Family Felidae-All species (W) except:

a. Acinonyx jubatus (cheetahs)-(D).

…from which it can be seen that cheetahs appear to be legal in California, which would surprise me (no they are not). Although this subsection appears to be saying that cheetahs are an exception to the rule that a permit is required, I don’t think it actually means that. Correct. The law is poorly drafted. The cheetah is designated as “a threat to native wildlife, the agriculture interests of the state or to public health or safety are termed “detrimental animals” at you’ll need a license to possess this cat. The other cat species are designated: Mammals listed to prevent the depletion of wild populations and to provide for animal welfare are termed “welfare animals”.

Obviously domestic cats are not restricted and neither are hybrids of domestic cats. That means that the F1 Savannah and F1 Bengal cats are not restricted. These are first-generation wild cat hybrids in which the fathers are servals and leopard cats respectively. As it happens, there is a very rare F1 sand cat wild cat hybrid, a photograph of which you can see below. This would be a compromise if a person is really keen on owning an exotic cat such as a sand cat. They are called a ‘Marguerite’. You can read about this rare hybrid by clicking on the following link: “Marguerite” – sand cat x domestic cat, wild cat hybrid

F1 Sand Cat wild cat hybrid
F1 sand cat hybrid – ‘Marguerite’. Photo: Sarah Hartwell who states that the photos are for research purposes only.

You might think that getting a permit is going to be fairly easy but I would suspect that it won’t be. You will have to jump through hoops and hurdles to get one. It’s a good safety barrier to stop casual ownership of wild cats including this diminutive example which has the appearance of the domestic cat but the character of a genuine wild cat. And I suspect that there will be inspections and quite high standards to keep in terms of cat care and welfare.

RELATED: Do sand cats make good pets?

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