Is it legal to own a caracal or other small wild cat in Illinois?

This is about individual residents and citizens of Illinois wishing to purchase a caracal and legally owning that animal. I am compelled to say that my research on this topic was extremely disappointing. I thought I would cut to the chase and simply telephone the Illinois State Wildlife Service and ask them the simple question in the title but they never answered the phone. They never picked up 😒. They said all their staff were out of the office. That idea failed disappointingly.

Update: I can confirm that it is legal for an individual person to own a caracal in Illinois. This is because the animal is not listed as being prohibited. Although I criticise the law below because it is not drafted clearly in my view. As to other small wild cat species you will have to check whether it is listed and the list is below.

Pet caracal
Pet caracal . I don’t know where this is. They must have a license but it may be Russia where the rules are probably slacker. Photo: Andrey Bondarev/Caters News
Until September 7th I will give 10 cents to an animal charity for every comment. It is a way to help animal welfare without much effort at no cost. Comments help this website too, which is about animal welfare.

And if you can’t talk to a person who should know the answer you have to rely on Internet research and historically the Internet is a very bad source of information when it comes to the ownership of wild cat species on a state-by-state basis in the USA. The laws are often a mishmash and in general they lack clarity. Illinois is no different to any other state in this regard. We know what the Illinois law states and it is as follows:

“Wolves (and hybrids) and lions, tigers, leopards, ocelots, jaguars, cheetahs, margays, mountain lions, lynxes, bobcats, and jaguarundis (and hybrids thereof) are illegal to possess in Illinois unless the person has authorization from the Department of Natural Resources to bring them into the State and the person has a Federal Exhibitor’s permit.”

This is not, as far as I am aware, a direct quote from the relevant law but the source is reliable, I believe, and what it states is believable and plausible. The problem with it is that it does not list all the wild cat species of which there are about 37. This leaves the question as to whether caracals, servals, kodkods, Andean Mountain cats or margays et cetera are legal to own in Illinois?

It is shocking to me that they do not provide a full list. It wouldn’t have taken that much trouble to produce a full list. Therefore, we have to guess the answer. The caracal is of a similar order in terms of danger to humans as a bobcat or a jaguarundi. And as these two wild cat species are listed; by extension, I will have to presume that caracals are also illegal to possess in Illinois. No, I am wrong, apparently if the wildcat is not listed and the caracal is not, then it is not illegal in Illinois. This has been confirmed by recent story of a caracal worse escaped their home and attacked a woman and child on the street in suburbia.

And interestingly the word “possess” does not have the same meaning as ‘to own’ an animal. So that, too, is a weakness in the statement (did the author change the language of the law? I think so). It is incredibly imprecise and as far as I’m concerned, a classic failure of clarity and helpfulness.

Of course, the law is different in respect of institutions such as zoos, circuses or state operated institutions, if they want to possess and own a caracal. This article, as mentioned, is about individual residents and citizens of Illinois wishing to adopt a caracal or other small wild cat species.

I would suggest that you telephone the wildlife services and hope that they answer the phone! Telephone number: 309-409-6245. Email:

Another complication that I bumped into is that the relevant law of Illinois concerned with the possession of wild species is stated by one website to be 720 ILCS 585/ – Illinois Dangerous Animals Act. But according to the Illinois Gen Assembly this has been repealed meaning it is no longer effective. That further confuses the matter.

A further confusion is that I’m not sure whether it is the Illinois State Wildlife Service or whether it is their Department of Natural Resources which is concerned with this matter. 😎 Sorry to be so unhelpful. I always like to provide a clean, clear answer to questions of this nature. I have failed miserably on this occasion.

Update: Below is the law in dangerous animals:

2010 Illinois Code
720 ILCS 585/ Illinois Dangerous Animals Act.
(720 ILCS 585/0.1)(from Ch. 8, par. 240)
Sec. 0.1. Definitions. As used in this Act, unless the context otherwise requires:
“Dangerous animal” means a lion, tiger, leopard, ocelot, jaguar, cheetah, margay, mountain lion, lynx, bobcat, jaguarundi, bear, hyena, wolf or coyote, or any poisonous or life‑threatening reptile.
“Owner” means any person who (a) has a right of property in a dangerous animal or primate, (b) keeps or harbors a dangerous animal or primate, (c) has a dangerous animal or primate in his care, or (d) acts as custodian of a dangerous animal or primate.
“Person” means any individual, firm, association, partnership, corporation, or other legal entity, any public or private institution, the State of Illinois, or any municipal corporation or political subdivision of the State.
“Primate” means a nonhuman member of the order primate, including but not limited to chimpanzee, gorilla, orangutan, bonobo, gibbon, monkey, lemur, loris, aye‑aye, and tarsier.
(Source: P.A. 96‑1219, eff. 1‑1‑11.)

(720 ILCS 585/1)(from Ch. 8, par. 241)
Sec. 1. Dangerous animals and primates; prohibitions.
(a) No person shall have a right of property in, keep, harbor, care for, act as custodian of or maintain in his possession any dangerous animal or primate except at a properly maintained zoological park, federally licensed exhibit, circus, college or university, scientific institution, research laboratory, veterinary hospital, hound running area, or animal refuge in an escape‑proof enclosure.

Below are some more pages on animal laws.

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