Can You Own A Pet Penguin?

Penguins, like flamingos and blue jays, are wild birds, each beautiful in their own way. Can you own a penguin? In a word, no. They’re protected and are therefore illegal.

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Penguin on rocks in antarctica

I understand the appeal of penguins: from fluffy baby penguins to the majestic emperor penguin, these birds are fascinating.

Let’s take a closer look at why penguins wouldn’t make a good pet!

Is it Legal to Own a Penguin?

You might be curious if owning a penguin as an exotic pet is legal or if they’re illegal outside of zoos. I won’t say unfortunately as it’s for the best, but it isn’t possible to own a penguin. They’re protected and therefore illegal to keep as pets in the United States. 

That means you can’t import an African penguin or a blue penguin. No matter how cute or elegant these birds are, they really won’t make a good pet. Let me tell you more about why.

Penguins Aren’t Domesticated

Penguin mother with chicks

When an animal is domesticated, that means humans use selective breeding to change them and their behavior. Penguins have not undergone this process, and for a good reason. Many people agree that domesticating wild animals is immoral as it forces them to be dependent upon us and changes their way of life.

Just because penguins are at the zoo doesn’t mean that they’re domesticated either. They may have adjusted to human interaction and may allow some people to touch or pet them, but they aren’t adapted to fully living with humans. They’re still wild animals, and even these penguins wouldn’t make good pets.

Some Penguins Are Endangered

Eighteen species of penguins exist worldwide. Eleven of them are vulnerable or endangered. The penguins can be divided into four groups, ranging from least threatened to endangered. 

However, even penguins in the “least concern” category shouldn’t be kept as pets. These are wild animals who deserve plenty of room and need more care than a private home can offer.

Least Concern

  • Adelie penguin
  • Chinstrap penguin
  • Emperor penguin
  • King penguin
  • Little penguin (Blue penguin)

Near Threatened

  • Gentoo penguin
  • Magellanic penguin

Vulnerable

  • Fiordland penguin
  • Humboldt penguin
  • Macaroni penguin
  • Royal penguin
  • Snares penguin
  • Southern Rockhopper penguin

Endangered

  • African penguin
  • Erect-crested penguin
  • Galapagos penguin
  • Northern Rockhopper penguin
  • Yellow-eyed penguin

Penguins Are Very Social

Penguin waddle jumping into the water

Penguins live in large groups. Since you wouldn’t want to have a pet that was deeply depressed, you would have to have ten to twenty penguins. This would increase the space needed, the food required, and the costs involved.

Penguins huddle together when the temperatures are below freezing to prevent them from dying from the cold. The outer layer creates a windbreak. The penguins rotate, so each gets a chance to be sheltered as well as to shelter.

In the water, the risk of being caught by a predator is lower. Even though they don’t share their habitat with polar bears, orcas can be a threat.

Penguins also mate for life, so it is important to refrain from separating a male and female mated pair. A male will choose a female and offer her a pebble. If she accepts it, their relationship is established.

Most Penguins Need Cold Temperatures

A few varieties of penguins live in warmer areas, including one type that lives near the equator, but most penguins need temperatures between 30-40 degrees Fahrenheit. Keeping an area that cold is difficult and costly.

Penguins Need a Lot of Water

While one penguin might be comfortable with a standard pool full of saltwater, adding the other 19 needed to make the penguins happy would require an Olympic-sized pool. Since the penguins also need the cold, it would need to be an indoor pool, at least in the summer.

Keeping this huge pool clean is another huge undertaking. Since penguins eliminate their waste while swimming, the pool will quickly fill with feces that needs to be removed and require sanitization. Unlike a fishbowl, a pool cannot be emptied, cleaned, and refilled every few days.

Penguins Eat a Lot of Food

One penguin eats up to 90 very small fish, crab, squid, or krill daily – about two pounds of food. Even feeding just one penguin would be more than most people would be able to keep up with, but adding the others would increase the difficulty. Twenty penguins would go through 1800 small fish daily, or 657,000 fish every year.

Penguins Poop a Lot

Since penguins eat a lot, logic says they also have a lot of waste. Not only do they drop it wherever they happen to be – walking or swimming – but they also propel it four feet away – or more. This kind of mess would be a pain to clean up every day.

It’s Hard to Find a Penguin Vet

Most veterinarians do not have experience with penguins. Specific vets that work closely with zoos may know something about treating penguins, but these are specialized and rare. A pet penguin would have less likelihood of running into a predator like a seal, but it would still occasionally need medical care.

Penguins Need Constant Care

Vacations and time off are not possible unless you can find a penguin sitter. They need to be fed regularly. Their area needs to be cleaned frequently, and they cannot be left for more than a day at a time. This all translates to a lot of work.

While some penguins in zoos are trained to allow humans to touch and pet them, those who do are usually surprised to find that penguins are not soft. Their feathers are stiff. Petting a penguin is not as pleasant as it looks like it should be.

Penguins are high maintenance and should not be alone. Because of this fact, penguins are not a good idea for a pet, even if it were legal to own one.

How Much Does a Penguin Cost?

Young penguins playing

If it were not illegal to buy a penguin, you would have to have anywhere from $500 to $20,000 to purchase one penguin. Since it is necessary to have ten or more penguins, it would cost $5,000 to $400,000 or more just to buy penguins, not even counting the price for habitat, care, and feeding.

Finding a breeder with penguins for sale would also be very difficult since it is illegal to buy and sell penguins worldwide. Purchasing a baby penguin from a captive penguin is possible for zoos and wildlife reserves but involves a huge amount of paperwork and government approval.

If you want a pet baby bird, a better option may be a parakeet or cockatiel, a parrot, or a lovebird. Any of these are better in pairs, but all are better pets than penguins.