California prohibits private possession of big cats. California law classifies all big cats as restricted species (except cheetahs) and restricted species may not be possessed unless a permit authorizes possession. Permits are issued by the Department of Fish and Game for the following limited circumstances: the Animal Care Permit may be issued to persons in possession of a big cat prior to January, 1992; the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Permit may be issued to AZA-accredited institutions; the Breeding Permit may be issued to individuals with approved breeding plans; the Broker/Dealer Permit may be issued to individuals engaged in the trade of selling big cats; the Exhibiting Permit may be issued to persons engaged in exhibiting animals for commercial or educational purposes; the Research Permit will be issued to state-run agencies and universities to engage in scientific research.

Although each permit has specific requirements, all permits require applicants to be at least 18 years of age, pay a permit fee, provide an inventory of all animals, include a detailed contingency plan should an emergency, like an attack or escape, occur, and describe identifying information about the animal.