Ownership of Reptiles Banned in Pittsburgh

by | Apr 13, 2021

This Spring, HAP is celebrating a major victory for reptiles: “On Tuesday, March 23, Pittsburgh City Council unanimously passed Ordinance No. 36, which bans the ownership of any Crocodilian species or any Red-eared slider, which includes alligators, crocodiles, caimans, gharials, and red-eared slider turtles. As HAP members know, HAP wrote this Ordinance and has been advocating for it along with the Pittsburgh Police and Humane Animal Rescue of Pittsburgh. Following multiple incidents of these animals being abandoned, neglected, and inhumanely housed, Pittsburgh City Council took the necessary steps to ban ownership outright, with minimal exceptions for medical and educational institutions, veterinarians, and AZA accredited zoological parks.”


Many Pittsburghers will remember the mysterious alligator sightings in 2019, when it seemed like these animals were turning up on the streets of Pittsburgh nearly every week. While the stories were treated with a general mixture of bewilderment and vague amusement, they really were no laughing matter. These animals can, of course, be dangerous to people and pets, but they also face dangers of their own in a city that is not built to handle them.


After the aforementioned spate of alligator sightings in the ‘burgh, the City Council passed some regulations requiring specific, labeled enclosures for the animals but, unfortunately, these rules were concerned primarily with the animals’ potential to escape, not with the wellbeing of the animals. However, with this new ordinance, Pittsburgh’s policy on reptiles received a more humane update. 

Under the new ordinance, as stated, sale and ownership of alligators, crocodiles, and red-eared slider turtles is not permitted in the city, although zoos with AZA accreditation can still possess them. HAP lead blogger Aimee Douglass wrote back in September about the Pittsburgh Zoo’s ZAA accreditation compared with the gold-standard AZA accreditation, and you may have heard that, as we had asked for some time, the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium has agreed to pursue recertification with the AZA, leaving them eligible to hold these reptiles–another cause for celebration for animals in Pittsburgh.

This new legislation is a big victory for reptiles for a few reasons.

First, past legislation did not include red-eared sliders, but these popular pets are long-lived invasive species who, when released, can out-compete with native species, and who deserve to live their long lives in freedom instead of cramped captivity. 

Second, the original 2019 ordinance contained requirements for alligators and other reptiles to be kept in cramped quarters which prevented their escape, but these animals are not meant to live that way. They benefit from large territories where they can roam freely, and they don’t benefit from human companionship. Many other states prohibit the inhumane sale of these animals, and Pittsburgh is now catching up.

So what is next for HAP when it comes to protecting these creatures? 

It’s vital that this ban be enforced, but also that individuals who currently possess these animals know what to do–or, namely, what not to do. As mentioned above, crocodiles and alligators are not well-suited to a populated city, nor are they suited to the climate of southwestern Pennsylvania. On the other hand, red eared sliders are positioned to become invasive. For these reasons, none of these animals should, under any circumstances, be released into the wild, no matter how far from the city. 

The legislation did provide some exceptions for individuals who already do own these animals to prevent this from happening. Post Gazette writer Ashley Murray explains, “The ordinance allows exceptions for those who have owned the pet reptiles for the past six months, given that they adhere to new criteria including: pay a yet-to-be-determined registration fee; alert the city’s Bureau of Animal Care and Control should the critter escape and in the case of owning a crocodilian species; and carry liability insurance in the minimum amount of $1 million.” 

What can the average HAP member do to help? Most of us aren’t keeping these reptiles as pets, but it’s possible we may know someone who is. Just as we reached out to the City Council to promote the passage of this ban, we should similarly continue to share information about its passage on our social media platforms and with our friends and family. We can make sure our local pet stores are informed about the ban, too. Sharing this information widely could save animals from unsatisfying lives in captivity.


Aimee Douglass is the Director of Compassionate Living. She has been a volunteer with HAP since 2018. She is an active participant in the Compassionate Living campaign and in 2019 tabled at her first event for HAP. Aimee works in the healthcare industry and has a bachelors degree in Creative Writing from the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown and a masters degree in Communications with a health care focus from Southern New Hampshire University. She lives in Penn Hills with her husband and their three dogs.

Hannah Lewis is the Assistant Blogger and grant writer at HAP. She has been working with HAP since July of 2020. By day, she works as a literacy educator. She is an avid hiker, but also loves to spend time indoors curled up with a book and her long-haired cat, Frejya.