Can You Own A Pet Platypus?

Can you have a platypus as a pet? The short answer is no. Platypuses are wild animals that live in Australia and they need the right environment to thrive. It is not only illegal to keep them as pets in Australia but also to export them as pets to other countries.

Pet platypus

As exotic as they are, so difficult is it to keep platypuses in captivity. Even zoos and research institutions struggle regularly with caring for these animals. They have specific habitat and feeding requirements that make keeping them prohibitively expensive for individuals.

Is it Legal to Own a Platypus?

The Australian Government doesn’t list platypus as being a threatened species. However, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists platypus as near threatened

Scientists surveying the platypus population after the 2020 Australia fires have recommended that platypus be listed as threatened. 

The Endangered Species Act makes it illegal to own an illegal or threatened species in the USA, but it does not cover near-threatened species like the platypus. 

However, it is illegal to have a pet platypus in Australia. It is also important to note that the Australian Government has specific rules related to exporting platypus. Those receiving platypus must be an institution rather than an individual. 

The two platypus who arrived at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park in 2019 are the first platypus kept outside Australia since the ones at the Bronx Zoo in 1958. The last ones the Bronx Zoo had on display lived less than a year.  

Institutions that want a platypus must detail the role the platypus will play, such as being for display or being needed for genetic diversity within a breeding group. They also must meet strict exhibit and feeding requirements.

Why Platypus Don’t Make Good Pets

If a zoo can’t keep a platypus alive in a dedicated exhibit, you shouldn’t kid yourself that you could do a better job having one as a pet. 

I’ve seen some difficult exotic animals to keep in captivity, but platypus must be one of the hardest to keep alive and well.

#1 Pet Platypus Upkeep is Expensive

The Healesville Sanctuary in Victoria estimates that each platypus costs $13,000 per year for upkeep. Costs include their health, food, life support, and water needs.

#2 They Have Extreme Eating Needs

Platypus are picky eaters and eat a lot. They also need live food. Platypus dine on aquatic invertebrates like worms, insects, insect larvae, freshwater shrimp, some shellfish, and crayfish. They also eat 20% of their body weight in food per day, so keeping them fed is quite a feat.

Because wild platypus feed in an area of one kilometer or more in the wild, it’s essential that they have a large feeding tank. The water in these tanks also needs to be changed out each day or have appropriate filters. 

#3 Platypus Can Inject You With Painful Venom

Venom gland of platypus

Male platypus have hollow spurs on their hind legs that connect to venom glands. When two males fight over a female, they wrap their legs around each other and inject venom until one becomes paralyzed or drops. Eventually, the loser will recover. However, the victor gets the girl.

While the primary purpose of platypus venom is related to deflecting rivals during mating season, they can still inject you with their venom. Luckily, their venom gland goes dormant after mating season, so they’re not venomous year-round.

Venom injection sites are excruciatingly painful and swell rapidly. The pain is so intense that it can be paralyzing. You may not be able to use the affected limb for a few days or months because of severe pain that doesn’t respond to morphine. Discomfort and stiffness can persist for years.

#4 Platypus Have Exacting Habitat Needs

platypus in water

The Australian Government requires anyone receiving a platypus to provide a suitable habitat. Some of the requirements include:

  • Water and nest box temperatures must remain below 77°F (25°C).  
  • The platypus must be able to forage naturally with protected feeding and grooming sites.
  • The platypus must be able to interact with other platypus.
  • Water in the habitat must be dynamic, have various flow patterns, be filtered, and be easy to drain.
  • Water must be at least 1.3ft (0.4m) deep and 19.6ft2 (6m2) with an extra 13ft (4m2) for each platypus.
  • Each platypus needs a dry nest box.
  • They need tunnels and slides that can be closed off from water and nesting boxes to separate them from other platypus as needed.

#5 Pet Platypus Are Difficult to Keep in Captivity

diving platypus

Platypus have very particular needs and are extremely sensitive to ecological changes. 

Not only should platypus keepers understand platypus feeding needs, but they should also have extensive training related to keeping platypus aquatic life support systems in top condition.

The Australian Government requires that keepers and veterinarians who will be taking care of platypus have a minimum of two weeks of platypus training at the sending facility. Keepers must spend five additional days working with platypus at another institution.

#6 Platypus Are Mostly Active at Night

Platypus are nocturnal. In the wild, they emerge at dusk to search for food and sometimes hunt for 10-12 hours.  

In captivity, they spend most of their active hours outside their tunnels at night, so you probably won’t see them for more than an hour during the day. 

Zookeepers often use light controls to trick platypus into thinking day is night and night is day so that visitors can enjoy them during hours when the zoo is open to the public.

#7 Platypus Can Escape

Swimming platypus

The Bronx Zoo had a platypus in 1956 named Penelope who escaped her platypusary. A desperate search ensued, but nobody found her again. 

Penelope was given up as dead. There was no chance she could have found a suitable habitat to survive outside of captivity in the Bronx. 

How to Get a Pet Platypus

If you want to buy a platypus, you are out of luck. Unless you are a zoo or a research facility, you will be unable to obtain a platypus as a pet at any price. And for the well-being of a species that is near-threatened, you shouldn’t even try.

If it took 61 years for any zoo outside of Australia to be able to obtain a pair of platypus, your chances of getting one as a pet are even lower. You won’t be able to find one for sale at any cost.