Getting a Penguin as a Pet: Can You Do It?

If we were going to be completely honest, we would all admit that our main criterion when choosing a pet is the number of Oohs and OMGs it will receive. In their attempt to get the Coolest Pet Ever award, some people have started looking into obtaining an exotic animal. In particular, it appears that getting a penguin as a pet is quite a hot topic these days.

And how wouldn’t it be? If you could buy one, your own Skipper or Kowalski would definitely beat any average pooch out there, right? But can you actually get a penguin as a pet in the US? Read on to find out.

The Legal Side of the Matter

Most of us have heard of Lala, the King penguin that went shopping for fish — he is usually the reason someone decides they want a penguin as a pet. But there are several things we generally fail to notice: Lala was a rescue, and he lived in Japan years ago.


As you can imagine, things are slightly different in the United States.

1. Penguins Are Classified As Exotic Animals

Although an animal being exotic doesn’t automatically make owning it illegal, it definitely makes it all the more complicated to buy one legally.

Nevertheless, people can still keep a number of exotic animals in the US as pets if they can provide the right conditions for them. And that is by no means easy. So although you can keep a hedgehog, an anteater, or even a chimpanzee in some US states, the same doesn’t apply to having a penguin as a pet.

In fact, although it sounds colossally unfair, especially if you really want it, you can’t keep a pet penguin legally in the US. To be even more specific, there is no country in the world that would allow you to get one.

2. And They’re an Endangered Species

For the longest time, penguins were hunted and killed for food and fat, while their habitats were continually destroyed by climate change and unaware humans. As a result, out of eighteen penguin species known to humankind, ten are currently considered endangered.


Unsurprisingly, that puts penguins in the same group as gorillas and rhinos, which means international laws are set to protect them. In order to prevent such species from going extinct, the World Conservation Union drafted and signed the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

The purpose of the document is to regulate the international trade of wild animals, including penguins.

As a result, no one, anywhere in the world, can purchase a penguin as a pet. It just cannot be done legally in that capacity. That, however, does not mean it cannot be done legally at all.

The One Possible Way to Get a Penguin

You might be able to buy a penguin without getting in trouble with the authorities if you own a zoo. In that case, however, you would have to ensure that the penguin in question was born in captivity. In addition, you would have to prove to the authorities in charge that you can provide a suitable environment and companionship for it.

Finally, you would have to be able to provide appropriate healthcare. That means you have to have either an on-site or on-call vet who is an expert in bird and penguin-related diseases.

Things You Might Want to Consider Before Getting a Penguin

Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that you are not just a random person who wants to own a penguin as a pet. Even if you owned a zoo, trying to get one of these adorable waddly creatures could easily turn into a financial and logistical nightmare.

Most people make the classic mistake of assuming that all penguins really need is some ice and really cold weather. Although that is true for some species, it does not make penguins low maintenance animals. Not by a long shot.


So before you embark on your journey of finding the most beautiful penguin for your zoo, consider the following:

#1. You Cannot Have Only One

Penguins are pack animals, which means they require constant companionship in order to stay healthy and happy. Therefore, if you are considering getting a penguin for your zoo, you might as well consider getting more than one from the get-go.

Ideally, penguins love being in groups of about twenty, but buying two or three the first time around would do just fine. Just keep in mind that penguins are monogamous, so if you are buying two, make sure one is male and one female.

#2. You Will Need a Saltwater Swimming Pool

It doesn’t matter if you get two or twenty penguins; you will need a large saltwater pool for the enclosure. Those waddly things love swimming and playing in the water, and they do need a lot of room for all the shebang.

As you probably assumed, an average residential pool will not do. In terms of size, you ought to think along the lines of an Olympic-sized pool filled with cold saltwater. Consequently, that also means you will not be able to handle pool maintenance yourself because you will need to obtain an industrial cleaning system.

#3. You Ought to Provide Stable Low Temperature in the Enclosure

In order to keep any penguin species happy, you will need to keep the temperature at 30 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit. As you can imagine, that kind of balance in temperature is not easy to achieve, especially in southern states. It means you would have to purchase and install cooling devices, which in turn means you ought to expect astronomical electric bills the very next month.

#4. You Will Have to Provide (A LOT OF) Fish

You might not be aware of this fact, but a single penguin consumes about 500 lbs. of fish per year. To put it into a daily perspective, an average penguin eats about 4 to 11 lbs. of fish on regular days and about 13 lbs. just before the breeding season. In addition, penguins eat several times a day, which means they will require a lot of your attention.

fish penguin

Naturally, unless you are also an incredibly skillful fisherman, chances are you will have to go and buy the fish. That, again, implies expenses that you might not have expected when you first got the idea to get a penguin for your zoo.

If you add to that the fact that you’d also have to make up for lost nutrients and minerals that they otherwise get naturally, you can hopefully understand why keeping a penguin as a pet is not feasible.

#5. They Are Not the Cleanest Animals

As if their voracious appetite wasn’t enough, you ought to be aware of the fact that penguins defecate a lot too. To spare you the mental (and somewhat olfactory) image, let us just keep it at this — getting a penguin equals a lot of cleaning.

Suddenly, not being able to keep a penguin as a pet doesn’t seem so bad, right?

#6. They Are a Terrible Choice for a Petting Zoo

For most people, this part is rather difficult to believe. How can something so cute be terrible at… anything? But it is true.

Despite their cartoon-like physique, penguins are extremely difficult to domesticate. Generally speaking, they are not considered affectionate, especially not toward members of other species (humans included). So getting penguins for your zoo and hoping children could pet them and take cute photos with them is absolutely out of the question.

At best, the little things will waddle away and hide in their enclosure or underwater until the coast is clear. At worst, they will make unbearable noise in unison — again, until they make everyone go away. Then they will simply go back to what they were doing previously.

So, How Much Does It Cost to Keep a Penguin?

One penguin can set you back by anywhere between $1,000 and $22,000 per bird, the price depending on its species, age, and sex. Given that you will need at least two (and preferably more), that’s an expense of $2,000 minimum right off the bat.

Add to that the yearly budget for feeding (about $1,000 per penguin) and all the expenses of securing a proper shelter and pool, and you will see that getting a penguin is quite an investment. If you are running a small zoo and are on a tight budget, you might want to plan this thoroughly.

If You Can’t Buy, Adopt

Did you know that you can sponsor a penguin through a wildlife preservation organization? On the off-chance that you are not the owner of a prosperous zoo, this is as close to having a penguin as a pet as you can get.


Mind you, adopting a penguin is not a symbolic act through and through. Granted, you will not be able to take yours home and take care of it, but you will affect its life and help the preservation of the species.

What Adoption Entails for the Penguins

Depending on the organization you choose, the help you can provide will vary. You could support the care of penguins in captivity. In some cases, you might finance cleaning up oil spills that endanger not only them but also other seabirds.

What’s more, there are a great number of projects that delve into preserving penguin habitats. They care for injured or abandoned baby penguins or help increase the penguin population in captivity.

Finally, if you have any sort of influence in your community or on social media, you can partner with an organization that is involved in educating people about penguins. Literally, any small thing you decide to do with organizations means help for the lovable, cuddly creatures.

What Adoption Entails for You

By now, you’ve hopefully come to terms with the fact that you cannot keep a penguin as a pet. When you decide to sponsor a penguin instead, however, the organization you choose will make sure to acknowledge your efforts. Depending on what you decide to do, the benefits you receive from the adoption will vary.

For example, some organizations provide personalized adoption certificates to penguin benefactors. Others provide photos of the adopted penguin, or they give you an opportunity to name the penguin.

Most of the time, educational materials, books, and other freebies are given in the process of adopting a penguin. At times, the thank-you package includes a private visit to the organization’s facilities and getting to know your penguin. When the donation is quite big, the benefactors even get a special treat. They get a chance to take part in the release of a penguin into the wild.

However, if you truly want to help, you will not choose the organization based on the benefits you would get. You will make your decision based on what you can do to help.

Organizations That Help With Penguin Adoption Around the World

In the event that you decide to become a penguin benefactor, these are the organizations to turn to:

1. World Animal Foundation


For $39, WAF gives you an opportunity to adopt or gift an adoption certificate of a Fairy, King, or Emperor penguin. Your donation will go directly to WAF’s funds for penguin conservation.

2. World Wildlife Fund


As a part of its gift program, WWF offers the choice between several penguin species. You can opt to help Gentoo penguins, Black-Footed penguins, as well as adult and baby Emperor penguins. In all cases, the sponsorship will set you back by $55. In return, you will get an adoption certificate, species card, plush toy, and gift bag.

3. Oceana


At Oceana, you can choose between several adoption kits, ranging between $35 and $100. The kits differ in the thank-you pack you receive, but they all equally help preserve penguins.

Final Thoughts

The actual list of penguin adoption organizations is not nearly as short as the one provided above. If you dislike what they offer, make sure to do further research. After all, if you cannot keep a penguin as a pet, you might as well do something to help, right?

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