Alaska Herpetological Society
Amphibians and Reptiles as Pets in Alaska
The Alaska Herpetological Society (AHS) supports ethical, responsible and legal ownership of herpetofauna in Alaska. We are working with pet owners and the pet industry to educate the public on the proper care of these species and to prevent the introduction of invasive species and diseases that could be detrimental to the state's native amphibians and reptiles.
Amphibians and NON-VENOMOUS reptiles are allowed to be kept as pets in Alaska. It is unlikely that reptiles illegally released in the state will establish viable populations given Alaska's harsh winters outside of the home, but amphibians are a different story. Non-native amphibians brought into the state are capable of displacing native amphibians and introducing diseases such as Chytrid Fungus and Ranavirus that can devastate natural populations.
Alaska defines amphibians as fish (AS 16.05.940.12) and therefore all related fish statutes apply (regardless of whether they pertain to or meet the needs of amphibians):
"fish" means any species of aquatic finfish, invertebrate, or amphibian, in any stage of its life cycle, found in or introduced into the state, and includes any part of such aquatic finfish, invertebrate, or amphibian
This means that any live amphibian being imported, held, or possessed must be accompanied by a Fish Transport Permit (also referred to as a Fish Resource Permit) as per 5 AAC 41.005, EXCEPT when the amphibian qualifies as an "ornamental fish." The definition of an ornamental fish (5 AAC 41.100.12) is not clear when it comes to amphibians but is as follows:
"ornamental fish" means a fish commonly known as "tropical fish," "aquarium fish," or "goldfish," which are imported, cultured, or sold in the state customarily for viewing in aquaria or for raising in artificial systems, and not customarily used for sport fishing or human consumption purposes
Thus far the state has only issued Fish Transport Permits for amphibians used for scientific or educational purposes. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) has apparently interpreted ornamental fish as including any amphibian bought, sold, or imported as a pet (but it is currently ILLEGAL to take a wild Alaskan amphibian as a pet). While having a pet amphibian may not require a Fish Transport Permit, state law does require a permit from the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and a veterinary health certificate (18 AAC 36.005) if you wish to enter or re-enter the state with a pet amphibian (the same applies to reptiles).
As mentioned, it is illegal to take Native Alaska amphibians as pets from the wild. Many amphibian species are already struggling and removing breeding individuals from a population only adds additional stress. By moving amphibians from place to place you may be helping to spread disease but you are also altering population genetics. This applies to eggs, tadpoles and larvae too - they cannot be legally collected without a Fish Transport Permit, even for use in the classroom. Despite the clarity and rationality of these laws, we understand that people will continue to bring Native amphibians home as pets and learning tools. If you refuse to obey the law and our warnings, at least follow these rules:
- Keep a pet for the duration of its life. They should never be re-released into the wild. Find a friend to take it, turn it into your local Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game branch or humanely euthanize the animal if you can no longer keep it.
-If you are going to re-release a Native amphibian, put it back in the exact place that it was taken. Never release a native amphibian or water from its original habitat in another location.
-Never release amphibians that were in contact with other amphibians from other places while in captivity.
Click here for a downloadable pamphlet produced by Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (PARC) that outlines the reasons for not turning loose a classroom specimen or pet:
We do encourage the public to enjoy legally obtained non-native amphibians and reptiles as pets that were acquired from reputable pet stores. For reptiles, the rules and regulations defining which species may be kept are stipulated in Alaska Regulation 5 AAC 92.029[b] . Venomous reptiles are explicitly prohibited in the state as per AS 16.05.921. A summary of this legislation's background, content and enforcement can be found by clicking here:
Though the regulations pertaining to ownership of amphibians in Alaska are clear and justified, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game is often stretched thin and is not always capable of policing or enforcing these laws. AHS has identified several pet stores in the state that were known to be selling unwanted amphibians and we have asked them to discontinue those pets in their stores. Usually the stores were simply unaware of the regulations and the reasons behind them. We want to promote education and compliance, working with our partners toward responsible pet ownership, rather than seek legal action that harms everyone.
Please help us in our goal to promote education of the public on these laws and the reasons for them. The first step is to comply with the laws yourself and to only keep legal amphibians as pets. Never take an amphibian from the wild or release an amphibian into the wild. Only purchase from reputable pet stores. If you see someone violating the law, just engage them in a friendly discussion and point them to our website for more information.
As AHS continues to grow, we will be working with our partners such as the Midnight Sun Herpetoculture Society (MSHS) to develop educational materials regarding responsible amphibian and reptile ownership, including best practices in the home. Please check back regularly for more information!
If you are a pet store owner or an educator, we invite you to get involved with AHS. Please take a leadership role in spreading the word about amphibians and reptiles to other stores in the industry, to your customers or to your student. We appreciate the work that you do and we too enjoy keeping these amazing critters as pets in our home!