Can you own a large wild cat in South Carolina?

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No, you cannot own a large wild cat in South Carolina. What do they mean by a ‘large wild cat’? They mean these cat species: lions, tigers, leopards, jaguars, cougars, cheetahs, snow leopards, and clouded leopards.

The N. Carolina law (see the Federal Big Cat Public Safety Act further down which overlaps with this state law and which makes this state law redundant. The terms of this federal act are similar in respect of the phase out time of big cats if there were any alive in N. Carolina at the time it became law).

SECTION 47-2-30. Possession or purchase of large wild cat, non-native bear, or great ape prohibited; exceptions; registration.

(A) Except as otherwise provided in this chapter, it is unlawful for a person to import into, possess, keep, purchase, have custody or control of, breed, or sell within this State, by any means, a large wild cat, non-native bear, or great ape, including transactions conducted via the Internet.”

Making it illegal to own these cats in South Carolina came into effect on January 2018. At that date, anyone in possession of one of these wild cat species was allowed to keep the animal provided they complied with the regulations listed below:

SECTION 47-2-30. 

(B) A person in legal possession of a large wild cat, non-native bear, or great ape prior to January 1, 2018, and who is the legal possessor of the animal, may keep possession of the animal for the remainder of the animal’s life, subject to the following conditions:

(1) on or before January 1, 2018, the possessor of a large wild cat, non-native bear, or great ape shall register with the animal control authority for the city or county in which the animal is located. The registration shall include the person’s name, address, telephone number, a complete inventory of each large wild cat, non-native bear, or great ape that the person possesses, a photograph or microchip number for each animal, the address for the site at which each animal is located, and the payment to the animal control authority of a one-time fee of five hundred dollars per site at which a large wild cat, non-native bear, or great ape is to be located, and an annual fee of one hundred dollars per large wild cat, non-native bear, or great ape located at that site to cover the costs of enforcement of this chapter. A possessor shall have a continuing obligation to promptly notify the animal control authority with jurisdiction of any material changes to the information required for registration;

(2) the possessor shall prepare and submit to the animal control authority at the time of payment of the fee required by item (1) a contingency plan to protect first responders by providing for the quick and safe recapture of the large wild cat, non-native bear, or great ape in the event of an escape;

(3) the possessor shall maintain veterinary records, acquisition papers for the animal, or other documents or records that establish that the person possessed the animal prior to January 1, 2018;

(4) the possessor shall present paperwork described in item (3) to an animal control or law enforcement authority upon request;

(5) the possessor shall comply with the basic standards for housing exotic animals and protecting the public under the federal Animal Welfare Act, 7 U.S.C. Section 2131, et seq., as amended, and the regulations adopted pursuant to that act, and shall allow the animal control authority access to the animal’s housing in order to ensure that the animal is properly cared for and poses no risk of unauthorized contact with the public;

(6) the possessor shall notify the animal control authority, the local sheriff’s department, and police department, if applicable, immediately upon discovery that the large wild cat, non-native bear, or great ape has escaped. The possessor of the animal shall be liable for any and all costs associated with the escape, capture, and disposition of a registered animal; and

(7) the possessor shall comply with any and all applicable federal, state, or local law, rule, regulation, ordinance, permit, or other permission regarding ownership of large wild cats, non-native bears, and great apes. Failure to comply with any law, rule, regulation, ordinance, permit, or other permission constitutes a violation of this chapter.

Under SECTION 47-2-40, the authorities have the power to seize large wild cats if the owner/possessor does not comply with the regulations. Also, they have the power to confiscate the animal if it poses a danger to the public. Or if it is in danger of losing its life due to poor caretaking. The animal can be returned once the issues have been resolved.

Federal law makes this state law redundant

The Big Cat Public Safety Act refers to big cats as “prohibited wildlife species.” It became law in Dec 2022. The prohibited wildlife species listed in the Act include the following species and hybrids of any of these species: lion (Panthera leo), tiger (Panthera tigris), leopard (Panthera pardus), snow leopard (Uncia uncia), clouded leopard (Neofelis nebulosa), jaguar (Panthera onca), cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus), and cougar (Puma concolor).

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