Is it legal to own a serval in Virginia?

Provided you have a permit it is legal to own a serval in Virginia. The state rules on exotic animal ownership including servals are found at 4VAC15-30-40 of the administrative code. This section of the statute concerns “Importation requirements, possession, and sale of nonnative (exotic) animals.”. This page is about citizens of Virginia who wish to own a serval.

The law states that “a special permit is required and may be issued by the department”. I believe that the Department referred to is the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR). It states that a permit may be issued if owning a serval is “consistent with the Department’s fish and wildlife management program”.

Virginia law requires that a person applies for a permit before owning a serval
Virginia law requires that a person applies for a permit before owning a serval. Image: MikeB
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This section of the law states that all species of Felidae require a permit. “Felidae” is a family of mammals in the order Carnivora, colloquially referred to as cats. The screenshot below shows you what I mean. Clearly this does not apply to domestic cats but this is not stated in the law. And of course, the domestic cat falls within the family of Felidae and therefore I find the way the law has been drafted to be rather strange and for me, less precise than it might have been.

You can see an asterisk next to the word “Cats”. This means that if an individual citizen of Virginia does own and is in possession of a serval or any other non-native wild cat species prior to July 1, 1992, they “must declare such possession in writing to the Department by January 1, 1993”. That section of the law which is now quite old would have applied to people who possessed a serval at the time the law was introduced. The declaration must be renewed every 5 years.

The Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources have an application to import and possess exotic wildlife online which you can see by clicking on the link below if you wish.

Application to own exotic animal in Virginia

It is quite an extensive questionnaire. I would expect any permit granted to last for a year or a set period and that the permit holder should submit to regular inspections to ensure that they are in compliance with the state’s regulations in respect of exotic animal ownership and to protect both the animal and local residents. It would be sensible to enquire about the application and inspection process beforehand to see what it entails.

Below are some more articles about animal laws.

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