Are Crested Geckos Legal to Keep?
Crested geckos are an exotic reptile species. Thus, the buying, selling, or ownership of cresties is sometimes subject to legal regulations. If you plan to buy your first gecko, you must ensure that buying, importing, and owning pet lizards is legal in your area. Failure to do so might, in the worst-case scenario, result in a substantial fine.
Keep reading to learn more about the legal status of crested geckos in your area. I cover this subject in great detail, focusing on the US, UK, Canada, and other English-speaking countries. I also review legal requirements for breeding, selling, and transporting crested geckos.
The Legality of Crested Geckos as Pet
Crested geckos are considered exotic pets and are currently classified as vulnerable species on the IUCN Red List. As such, these lizards are protected under the law. The capturing, export, selling, buying, or owning of wild crested geckos is prohibited in New Caledonia, where the species originates.
There are currently no global regulations for the selling and buying of captive-bred crested geckos. However, crested geckos are widely popular and frequently sold in the pet trade. This is all possible because multiple breeding lines have already been established in the US and Europe.
The legality of selling, buying, or owning captive-bred cresties is state-dependent. Check the table below to see if cresties are legal in your area:
|Legal (only throughout the contiguous US; some states require permits)
|Legal (some cities and provinces might require permits)
|Legal (only with a permit)
As you can see, there are currently no laws prohibiting the import or ownership of captive-bred crested geckos. However, depending on your location, you might need authorization to own them. Most professional breeders can assist you in obtaining a local permit when buying from them.
Only two US states have strict statutes and regulations regarding exotic pet ownership. These states are Hawaii and Alaska. You won’t be able to import or own a crested gecko in these places, even if it is captive-bred.
All other US states allow you to purchase crested geckos. Again, it’s mandatory to own a permit to keep them as pets in certain places. The minimum age to get a permit is 16 years old. There are a few states where crested gecko pet ownership is fully legal without authorization:
- North Carolina
- South Carolina
- West Virginia
Why Are Crested Geckos Illegal in Some Places?
There are two main reasons why crested geckos (and other exotic animals) are illegal in certain places. The first reason is the protection of endangered species. If a species is threatened, the catching, selling, or owning of such animals is strictly prohibited to preserve the local fauna. This is the case with wild crested geckos in New Caledonia.
Some exotic animals may represent a local biosecurity risk. However, captive-bred animals are also sometimes prohibited, such as in Alaska and Hawaii. This brings us to the second reason— ecosystem preservation.
If released in the wild, these animals might quickly turn into invasive species, threatening the balance and biodiversity of the local environment. This happens if said species has no predators or competition. This is the case in states such as Hawaii.
Crested geckos are avid insectivores that prey on a variety of species of moths, grasshoppers, spiders, roaches, crickets, and more. They might represent a threat to local endangered species like the Hawaiian damselfly or the Blackburn’s Sphinx moth.
Do You Need a Permit to Keep Crested Geckos?
Crested geckos are legal throughout most of the English-speaking world. However, owning these reptiles is sometimes conditioned. A permit is mandatory in certain countries, states, or cities. This is the case for Canada, Australia, and multiple states in the US.
Depending on your location, you may or may not need a license for the US and Canada. Permits are mandated state-wide in Australia. Some states require a permit for owning venomous reptiles, while others extend the permit to include any exotic reptile species, including geckos.
States that require permits for all exotic reptiles include Delaware, Maine, and Massachusetts. Crested geckos are exempt from wildlife ownership laws in a few states, including Florida, Idaho, Nevada, North Carolina, South Carolina, and more. You’ll have to check the local law to make sure before buying a crested gecko.
Is it Illegal to Keep Wild Crested Geckos?
Yes, owning wild crested geckos is illegal, as is exporting them from their wild habitat. This species is protected by law under CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora).
CITES is an international agreement between governments and was signed by 184 countries, including the US. Its purpose is to protect endangered species through legal, sustainable, and traceable trade practices (including export and import).
Trade is tightly monitored and regulated through a system of permits and certificates. New Caledonia no longer issues any permits for exporting wild crested geckos, not even for scientific research purposes.
Is it Legal to Breed and Sell Crested Geckos?
Captive-bred specimens are exempt from CITES. So, you can legally sell captive-bred cresties. Obviously, the same goes for breeding them for commercial purposes. However, things get complicated when it comes to permits and authorizations.
As a small-scale hobbyist, you can legally breed and sell your extra crested geckos without obtaining any permit or license. However, if you intend to turn your crested gecko hobby into a stable breeding operation and business, that’s when the “fun” begins.
Most countries regulate the commercial sales of animals and breeding operations under the Animal Welfare Act. However, permits and licensing are only required for professional operations selling more than 25 reptiles per year.
If that’s you, you’ll need to have an Animal Sales Permit from the USDA (or an equivalent government agency in your country). You will also need a business license and sales tax ID from your local government. Many localities also require a breeding permit to ensure humane breeding and animal safety practices.
Is it Legal to Travel with a Crested Gecko?
It entirely depends on your travel destination and the local law. If you plan to travel to a country or state that requires a permit, you’ll need to ensure your permit is up to date. You might also require a valid health certificate for your pet. Always check the local law and prepare all the documentation one month in advance before your trip.
Taking your crested gecko to states that prohibit exotic animal ownership or importation is illegal. For example, you won’t be able to enter Hawaii or Alaska with a gecko onboard. Other limitations might make it difficult to travel with your pet.
If traveling by plane, you first need to ensure the airline company allows pet reptiles onboard. Many companies don’t, but a handful will. Some of these include American Airlines, Air Canada, Air Europa, and Finnair. You’ll have to adhere to strict rules, though. Your gecko must be in a closed container, and you’ll have to leave your pet in the cargo hold.
If you’re only traveling throughout the US, you have one more option. You can use overnight shipping services. For example, you can schedule a pickup at a local UPS facility at your desired travel destination. However, you must adhere to their shipping protocols. This includes using proper packaging methods like reptile breeders do when shipping their live pets.
Crested geckos are legally protected under the international CITES agreement. It’s illegal to import, sell, or own wild cresties. However, captive-bred specimens are exempt from this regulation. All the crested geckos currently selling throughout the US and Europe are captive-bred and thus fully legal.
Of course, legal laws still apply. In some states, it is illegal to import or own exotic animals. Such is the case for Alaska or Hawaii. In other places like Canada, Australia, and many US states, you can own a pet gecko as long as you have a permit. Anyone aged 16 and older can apply for such a permit in the US.