Most of us are familiar with the little creatures called hamsters, but if you live in a country where hamsters are not very popular, you may wonder why that is and whether you are allowed to own one where you live. Although hamsters are seen as very gentle and lovable animals, they are illegal in some countries.
These small animals can pose a threat to the country’s ecosystem. Throughout history, many imported animals wreaked havoc inside the country. When exotic animals are introduced to the country, they have a great impact on native animals and wildlife. This is the reason that countries will introduce restrictions, to preserve the welfare of the environment.
The import and possession of all kinds of animals in Australia is strictly regulated by the 1999 Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act and only animals that comply with the strict regulations are permitted to enter the country.
Sadly, for all Australian hamster lovers, these little creatures are strictly banned. Anyone found trying to bring a hamster into Australia or discovered to be in possession of one breaks the law and is likely to be subject to a fine or punishment.
According to Australian quarantine regulations, hamsters are listed as an invasive pest. Australia is worried about what could be happening to the ecosystem by an unregulated population of hamsters. The main concern about the introduction of hamsters into Australia is the possible effects they could have on the climate, native plants, and animals.
Australia has dealt with the arrival of a variety of non-native animals throughout its history, including rodents, foxes, cane toads, and carps, which have caused untold environmental damage, pushed many native species to the verge of extinction, and produced agricultural and economic catastrophes. The unintended or deliberate release of hamsters into the Australian landscape is feared to have a similar effect.
Hamsters are particularly likely to adapt to Australia’s extreme climate as descendants of desert species and reproduce at rapid rates, raising competition for limited food and habitat that is essential to native animals.
Wild hamsters are also at risk of affecting crops and agriculture, further amplifying the issue created by imported rabbits, and although hamsters are small and relatively simple prey, there is just not a large number of natural predators who could manage a growing population of hamsters.
Anyone caught trying to import or owning a hamster could face up to 5 years in jail, a $210,000 (AUD) fine, or both, according to the Australian Department of Environment and Energy.
Alternatives for pet hamsters
There’s always a misunderstanding in Australia about the distinction between hamsters and guinea pigs. Maybe it’s because people are not used to seeing hamsters, so the two are the same thing, but hamsters and guinea pigs are completely different animals.
The good news for Australian people is that guinea pigs are absolutely legal and they still have the same adorable and affectionate personality though they are a little bigger than their distant hamster cousins. Australia also allows keeping a rabbit as a pet.
The common house mouse or pet rat is perhaps the most closely connected alternative to a hamster in terms of size. These little critters may be kept in relatively small indoor enclosures, offering hours of fun for their owners as they investigate and interact in their surroundings.
You may not have previously considered a ferret as a pet, but they can make an adorable hamster replacement. They are larger than a hamster, but in Australia, they are legal to own.
Numerous species imported into Queensland became serious pests. The cane toad, mouse, cat, European rabbit, and many other less common species are examples.
These species cost a lot of money for Queensland and may have led to the extinction of many indigenous creatures. Infectious diseases, including exotic diseases, such as rabies, and other diseases that are harmful to humans, such as herpes B, can be transmitted by imported animals.
The legislation prohibits the importation and retention of such animals as pets. Any animals would inevitably escape if there were no restrictions on the keeping and importation of possible pest animals. These animals can increase their number in the wilderness.
All imported mammal species, unless mentioned as exceptions, are banned as pets. Cats, dogs, horses, goats, and several more are those exceptions. Hamsters are seen as pests and by that rule, they can be a threat to the environment and economy.
It’s not just the hamsters that are illegal. As mentioned above, every introduced mammal species is prohibited. This includes Squirrels, foxes, rabbits, gerbils, monkeys, and weasels. Queensland sees these as exotic animals and cannot be imported into the country.
Queensland issued a Biosecurity Act in 2014 that prescribed animal species as prohibited. These restrictions prevent the keeping of most species as pets.
Unlike in the rest of Australia, Queensland banned many exotic animals to be kept as pets. As well as hamsters, ferrets, gerbils, and rabbits are not allowed. But they have no placed restrictions on cats, dogs, rats, and mice.
Also, just like in the rest of Australia, guinea pigs are very legal to own. Guinea pigs are common in Queensland and they are the most common choice for a hamster replacement. Many places in Queensland offer guinea pigs.
3. New Zealand
Many animals that have been introduced to New Zealand by the Europeans have been accepted and pets. That is not the case with hamsters. Unlike rabbits and rats, the hamsters were not introduced to New Zealand. The reason there are no hamsters there is that they are viewed as pests.
New Zealand cares to protect its natural flora and fauna, so pests, or in this case hamsters, are not imported. The Ministry of Primary Industries explained that the hamsters and their risks have not been investigated, like other pests. They also said that investigation is a lengthy process and that they pose many threats to native species.
The main reason New Zealand is so firm in its position is that the nation is proud of biodiversity and much of the economy of the world relies on the environment, which may be placed at risk by allowing any animals to reach the country.
Pets in New Zealand must have been born, raised or lived-in countries deemed by New Zealand to be either rabies-free or rabies-controlled for at least six months before they are permitted to join the country.
New Zealand requires many permits for importing pets, including cats and dogs. You won’t need an import permit if you come from Australia. Your animal will be quarantined for ten days. Importantly, certain breeds of dogs cannot be imported. Entry would be denied to the American pit bull terrier, Dogo Argentino, Japanese Tosa, and Brazilian Fila.
One thing to also remember is that New Zealand is a snake-free country, so they are definitely not approved by the New Zealand government.
The best replacement for a hamster and a pet that can be kept in New Zealand is a chinchilla. But some chinchillas are unwelcomed in New Zealand, as well. You will need a permit for breeding chinchillas and if you want to keep one as a pet, the chinchillas have to be imported from Great Britain.
Sadly, ferrets and guinea pigs are not allowed to be imported into New Zealand. Although, there is an exception for guinea pigs. They can be imported to New Zealand only if they come from Australia. You would need papers that state that the guinea pig was born and raised in Australia.
Rabbits can also be imported and kept as pets if they are imported from Australia. There are also restrictions on mice and rats to be imported into the country. They can be imported in New Zealand only as laboratory animals.
Hawaii has a very sensitive population of wild animals and plant life. The fear of hamsters is that they will migrate to the countryside and prey on vulnerable crops and tiny animals. There are several endangered species living on Hawaii Island and these delicate species may be jeopardized by some non-native species introduced into the wild.
To secure the natural ecosystem and the environment, there are specific pet rules in Hawaii. They might create wild colonies and injure crops, native plants, and animals if hamsters or related pets were to escape into the field.
Having been found in hamster possession, the pet will be seized immediately. You will also be served with a notice to never keep these pets again or pay a fee.
Whether it wasn’t the first time you were caught, the authorities felt that you understood the law, but simply violated it. You will be charged with a $500-$10,000 civil fine, including the costs of the removal, handling, and maintenance of the animal.
You could be charged with a misdemeanor too, which is punishable by up to 6 months in jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000.
The Hawaiian government is worried that, given that hamsters are appropriate for Hawaii’s climate, hamsters could easily establish themselves as an invasive species in Hawaii. If hamsters were released into the wild, they may have a significant effect on native plants and animals.
The hamsters are not the only ones prohibited in the country. Gerbils can also not be kept as pets for the same fear as hamsters. Ferrets cannot be kept as pets because they have been known to carry the rabies virus, and Hawaii has been a rabies-free country for a long time.
Many animals are banned in Hawaii. These animals do not have natural predators in the country, which poses a threat to the ecosystem and the food pyramid in the country.
Hawaii does not have some unusual pets that you can see around the world. They mostly keep cats, dogs as well as pigs, goats, sheep, and horses. Lizards are also the most popular pets there.
California has some of the world’s most strict pet rules, second to Hawaii. You could face a hefty fine if you are caught with an exotic pet or even a small one on the banned list and the animal would be removed from you without a doubt.
The hamster ban is due to the threat of a new population of invasive animals. It might easily breed out of control if hamsters were to start populating in California. Local plants and livestock may also be affected by them. California has some magnificent plant life and wildlife that must be preserved by the natural inhabitants of this state.
You will be charged with criminal prosecution with a misdemeanor, punishable by up to 6 months in county prison and/or a fine of up to $ 1,000 if you are caught in possession of an illegal hamster.
Fines and even imprisonment are very uncommon, but not unheard of. The typical consequence is that the animal is removed and sadly disposed of. Secure homes are usually found for them, but others cannot be sheltered and are thus put to sleep, unfortunately.
But on the bright side, some hamster species are legal to own in California. This means that you would not face prosecution for owning them. These species include golden hamsters and dwarf hamsters, also known as Chinese hamsters. You can also hold chinchillas and guinea pigs. Although, you have to buy or adopt them from registered breeders and pet stores.
Ferrets are also illegal to keep a pet in California. The California Department of Wildlife takes the view that escaped pet ferrets pose a serious risk to the rare native animals and birds.
As a consequence, ferrets in California cannot legally be imported, transported, or possessed except by a permit given for a particular legal reason, such as medical research or transporting rescued ferrets.
In California, it is perfectly legal to own a rabbit as a pet. They are also one of the most popular pets in the country. Rabbits are commonly used as an alternative to pet hamsters.
Also, the alternative to hamsters is chinchillas. They are also legal to own in California. Californians are also fans of miniature animals, meaning they commonly keep pygmy goats, miniature horses, and small pigs as pets – and they are legal to own.
Why do countries ban certain pets?
When you think about exotic pets, the first thought can be animals that are very rare to keep as pets. These usually include animals that are usually seen in the wilderness and not suitable for living in a home. In most cases, people think about monkeys, certain parrots, lizards, spiders, snakes, and many more.
In terms of hamsters, you might think that they are not unusual, and primarily see them as pets, mostly gifted to small children. As mentioned above, many countries do not see them as pets, because the animal is not native to them. Hamsters are found in Europe and have not been introduced in Australia or New Zealand.
Even though they have the perfect climate for them to survive, that can be a problem. If hamsters reproduce and build their habitat in those countries, it means that some species may become extinct. Hamsters will also search for food, taking it away from animals that are native to that country.
This is the reason that hamsters are seen as pests and exotic animals because they are not native. But hamsters are not the only ones that can be banned in a country. Many states restricted importing exotic animals for the well-fare of the country and the well-fare of the animals.
The importation of animals to the country involves a certain level of disease risk. One or more diseases, infections, or infestations can reflect this risk as well. There are many steps that countries take to know which animals can be imported and which cannot.
Regulations and restrictions vary from country to country. Some counties inside a state will have different regulations as well, but restrictions are mostly written as a blanket cover, meaning they are applied throughout the country.
If you want to travel with your pet, it is best to research what are the restrictions for your pet in that country. Some will say that an animal has to be in quarantine for 10 days after entering a country. Many will require a bunch of certificates to ensure that the animal is healthy, while others will not cause a big hassle.