Exotic pet ownership is on the rise in the U.S. People desire something individual and exciting for an animal companion, but sometimes take on the pet without considering its needs – or even the law. There are success stories regarding exotic pets, of course, but to do it right takes work. These 20 celebrities all had a shot at doing that work, but sometimes there were unexpected or even tragic consequences.
20. Kirstie Alley – lemurs
Kirstie Alley owns lemurs, but she’s willing to take on the difficulties of looking after such pets. And she only started keeping them because she knew the climate of L.A, where she lives, could accommodate them. Alley also pays for a lemur-keeper. “I actually have a full-time animal caretaker. It’s just on my payroll!” she told People in 2016. And perhaps even more importantly, she’s warned the public against irresponsible pet ownership.
19. Justin Bieber – capuchin monkey
The tale of Justin Bieber’s capuchin monkey is a sad one. Bieber took ownership of the animal, called OG Mally, back in 2013 – he was apparently a present from a family friend. But when the singer took him to Germany, the animal was confiscated, and reportedly Bieber never provided the correct papers to retrieve him. Now Mally lives in a zoo, but according to keepers who spoke to babe.net in 2018, the monkey “still has issues speaking the capuchin language.”
18. Audrey Hepburn – deer
In 1959, iconic actress Audrey Hepburn worked on the film Green Mansions, a movie that happened to involve a baby deer. Hepburn ended up keeping the animal, which she called Pippin or “Ip” for short, and it grew very attached to her. The animal reportedly slept in a specially made bathtub at her home and would happily walk around the supermarket with Hepburn in Los Angeles.
17. Vanilla Ice – kangaroo
Vanilla Ice once owned a pet kangaroo – no, really – as well as a goat. He also briefly had a permit to keep the animals, but apparently it expired long before both pets escaped his Florida home in 2004. Ice avoided jail time, and the animals were recaptured. But when the kangaroo later died, the rapper had the animal stuffed – and now it’s on display in his house. Yep, that’s a normal thing to do.
16. Hugh Hefner – a whole menagerie
Playboy founder and millionaire Hugh Hefner kept an actual zoo at his Playboy Mansion! And it was fully licensed and legal. Reportedly, it contained an exotic set of birds – cranes, peacocks, parrots and flamingos to name just some – plus a huge cage for 100 squirrel monkeys. Hefner died in 2017, but don’t worry: the animals got to stay at their famous home.
15. Charlie Sheen – water dragon
Judging by media reports about him, Charlie Sheen is the last person you would trust with a difficult pet. And yep, those instincts would be right. The actor once owned a Chinese water dragon that he called Hopper Jr., but the poor animal didn’t last long. According to a Perez Hilton source in 2011, “[Sheen’s] Chinese water dragon died because he didn’t take care of it.” And worse, they claimed other animals had passed away on his watch, too.
14. Steve Tyler – raccoons
Do trash pandas really make good pets? According to rocker Steve Tyler, they do. When he was interviewed by David Letterman in 2011, Tyler revealed, “I got myself a pet raccoon. I put him on my shoulder and went fishing with it every day.” His name is Bandit and, apparently, even though raccoons are unusual pets, they can be very good ones if correctly looked after.
13. Mike Tyson – tigers
Legendary boxer Mike Tyson once owned a trio of magnificent white Bengal tigers – and miraculously managed not to get mauled. Tyson did hire an animal trainer for the animals, but he was still injured by them at least once. Not so surprising when you consider that he sometimes let them sleep in his bed! Eventually, the demands of keeping the tigers – each of them cost him thousands of dollars a month – became too much, and he sold the animals.
12. Mike Tyson – pigeons
Mike Tyson is clearly a man of diverse interests. That’s because he also loves the harmless pigeon, a creature about as far away from tigers as you can imagine. According to him, the first punch he ever threw was over a bully killing a pigeon, and now Tyson keeps more than 70 of the birds. Apparently, he can tell the differences between each bird and sees every one of them as an individual.
11. Paris Hilton – kinkajou
When you’re as rich as Paris Hilton, it seems you can have whatever pet you like. The socialite happens to own a kinkajou, a small rainforest creature, with the name of “Baby Luv.” Baby Luv may not particularly love Hilton, though… in 2006 she had to go to hospital for a tetanus jab after he bit her, which created plenty of headlines.
10. Elvis Presley – kangaroo
Elvis’ life was certainly colorful. And among the many odd things about it was that he briefly owned a pet kangaroo, reportedly given to him in 1957 by Lee Gordon, his agent. Elvis had a shot at raising the animal, but his considerable talents didn’t extend to exotic pet ownership. Eventually, he gave it up to a zoo in Memphis.
9. Nicolas Cage – cobras and octopus
Nicolas Cage has a reputation for being a pretty eccentric guy, and he’s made some pretty eccentric acquisitions throughout his life as well. He’s owned a tomb, an island, the first Superman comic… and some very exotic pets. These included a $150,000 octopus and two king cobras called Sheba and Moby. Cage claimed that studying them helped him improve as an actor.
8. Tyga – tiger
Of course ultra-controversial hip-hop artist Tyga would try and own his namesake. He once briefly, and illegally, kept a young pet tiger in his backyard, in fact. Eventually, thanks to an anonymous tip and a visit from the authorities, he surrendered it. Animal control subsequently transferred the big cat to a non-profit rescue facility. But Tyga allegedly hasn’t paid a cent towards its upkeep since… and he’s perhaps lucky he got off so lightly.
7. George Foreman – lion and tiger
Boxer George Foreman owned both a lion and a tiger during the 1970s. However, it eventually dawned on him that this was a bad idea when the lion attacked his brother. “I threw the best punch I ever threw at the lion,” he told ESPN in 2013. “I loved that lion, but I saw him coming and saw his teeth, and only then I realized I shouldn’t have had the lion.”
6. Terrence Cody – alligator
Terrence Cody of the Baltimore Ravens fell foul of the law in 2015 when it was revealed that Taz, his bull mastiff, had passed away due to neglect. That was bad enough on its own, but a search of the house revealed something else: an illegal (and reportedly starving) alligator. Cody ended up being found guilty of multiple misdemeanors regarding the animals and consequently spent half a year in prison.
5. Salvador Dali – ocelot
Salvador Dali’s life was every bit as surreal as his paintings. He owned an ocelot named Babou, for example, whom he walked around with on a leash and collar. However, Babou might not have enjoyed his life as a pet. In his 2004 memoirs, actor Carlos Lozano noted that “I only saw the ocelot smile once, the day it escaped and sent the guests at the Meurice scurrying like rats for cover.”
4. The Kardashians – chimpanzee
Back in 2009 Kim Kardashian made a controversial post on her blog. The family had acquired a monkey, she announced, a three-year-old one called Suzy. Kardashian was immediately slammed, especially since a woman had been attacked by a chimp in Los Angeles just a week before. The reality-TV star quickly retracted the post, claiming that the chimp was only “rented.” But how? And was it just damage control?
3. Leonardo DiCaprio – tortoise
Leonardo DiCaprio is a wildlife activist as well as an actor. So presumably he knows how to look after his Sulcata tortoise. He purchased it for $400 from the North American Reptile Breeders Conference & Trade Show back in 2010, but he doesn’t have to worry that it’ll die anytime soon. In fact, Sulcata tortoises have such a long lifespan that it’ll most likely outlive him.
2. Tippi Hedren – lions
In later life, The Birds actress Tippi Hedren decided to adopt a pet lion called Neil. Then she gained six more lion cubs and a trainer. Things fast became out of hand. For instance, Hedren’s daughter Melanie Griffiths, who would later become an actress herself, was clawed in the face. “We were stupid beyond belief,” Hedren confessed to the Daily Mail in 2014. “We should never have taken those risks.”
1. Michael Jackson – chimpanzee
One of the most famous celebrity pets of all time is Bubbles, the animal companion of Michael Jackson. The musician traveled alongside the primate for a while, but once Bubbles became older and more aggressive, that was no longer possible. In 2003 he was moved from Neverland Ranch before eventually ending up at the Center for Great Apes in Florida. And he’s still there now!