Someone gave me an elephant and told me not to give it away or sell it.

I don’t have the capability to take care of this thing. Heck, I don’t have any license or permit for elephants. I’m not a zookeeper or anything.

Isn’t it illegal to give this elephant to me?

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Dale M
    Jan 21, 2023 at 13:04
  • 3
    Did they actually put an elephant on your property, or just give you ownership of an elephant (which might be living on a preserve, in a zoo, etc.)?
    – Barmar
    Jan 21, 2023 at 16:10
  • Let's change the premise slightly: imagine that instead of an Elephas maximus indicus, "someone" delivers its weight in cocaine (2 tons for a small elephant) to your property. It would be quite a challenge persuading the local police that it wasn't yours. Jan 21, 2023 at 18:40
  • 10
    This of course is where the term "white elephant" came from.
    – Spencer
    Jan 21, 2023 at 22:35
  • Do you by any chance mean donating an elephant when you say gift? Those two terms fro a legal point of view mean different things.
    – Neil Meyer
    Jan 22, 2023 at 7:24

4 Answers 4


No one can give you an elephant without your consent.

If you don't consent, then it doesn't matter what provisos they spoke to you. They didn't give you an elephant at all. They abandoned an elephant on your property. You owe them no consideration. Call animal control and they make it "go away" (read: probably to a welcoming zoo).

If you did consent, now the question arises of whether it is legal. And that works out exactly the same as if you'd purchased the elephant yourself.

  • 7
    You're a a lot more optimistic about county animal control than I am. Once I called them to move a bird away and they just killed the bird. In my county, they would have no idea what to do with an elephant and no facilities to deal with it even if they knew. I expect I would be told I'd have to call someone else and I'd probably start calling zoos in an expanding radius. I wouldn't be surprised if someone wanted to charge me money to take an elephant away. Most likely, it would sooner or later wander onto someone else's property, and waiting for that would be my first strategy. Jan 22, 2023 at 2:48
  • 6
    @ToddWilcox I think you might be underestimating the degree to which literally every emergency- and animal-control-adjacent city and county department (in an expanding radius) would overreact to a sudden feral elephant. They might well end up killing the thing, but it would not be intentional.
    – Sneftel
    Jan 22, 2023 at 11:00
  • @ToddWilcox My understanding is that Colorado does have a fair amount of experience dealing with large unwelcome, but protected/valuable animals. The county would likely call in state resources for this particular problem, who would in turn start calling zoos, as well as elephant control experts. Jan 22, 2023 at 12:55
  • @ToddWilcox You're right. Here in my county in Texas animal control "don't do skunks." Bobcats, armadillos, deer, wild boar, maybe elephants. But if have a skunk problem, you're on your own.
    – B. Goddard
    Jan 22, 2023 at 14:09
  • There is a hilarious and tragic anecdote from a circus elephant which escaped a circus in Switzerland in 1866. It rampaged through a small city, and was eventually killed by the military using a six pounder artillery, since none of the rifles they had did the job. zeit-fragen.ch/en/archives/2016/no-13-18-june-2016/…
    – fgysin
    Jan 23, 2023 at 12:58

Under 16 USC 1638(a)(1) and given that all species of elephant are on the endangered species list, it is prohibited to

(D) possess, sell, deliver, carry, transport, or ship, by any means whatsoever, any such species...

(E) deliver, receive, carry, transport, or ship

You cannot receive and they cannot give. Any contract pertaining to the disposition of an elephant is unenforceable.

Perhaps you mis-spoke in the question, it's not that they "gave you an elephant", rather they delivered the elephant to your property and transmitted instructions, without your consent. You are not criminally or civilly liable for the act of another person which you do not know about and cannot prevent.

  • 13
    You deleted critical parts of the statute. (D) only applies to species "taken" illegally. I believe, but I'm not sure, that captive-raised elephants aren't taken. (E) has an interstate commerce limitation. So if the elephant was licensed, grandfathered, or under similar exemption from 16 USC 1539, then (D) would not apply. If your neighbor dumped the elephant on to you, then (E) would not apply, you'd have to look in state law.
    – user71659
    Jan 20, 2023 at 20:20
  • Also note that African elephants are "threatened" rather than endangered, which I believe means that this section of code doesn't explicitly apply to them. (There may be species-specific regulations for African elephants as described under section (g), though.) Jan 22, 2023 at 23:03

It's not illegal in England to own or sell an elephant but you'll need to apply for a licence from your local council to keep it, as elephants are listed on the schedule of wild animals.

Family Elephantidae
All species.

On the face of it, you'd (currently) be refused the licence on every single ground

  • ...it is not contrary to the public interest to do so on the grounds of safety, nuisance or other grounds
  • the applicant is a suitable person to hold a licence to keep the animals listed on the application
  • the animal(s) will be kept in accommodation that prevents its escape and is suitable in respect of construction, size, temperature, drainage and cleanliness
  • that the animal(s) will be supplied with adequate and suitable food drink and bedding material and be visited at suitable intervals
  • appropriate steps will be taken to ensure the protection of the animal(s) in case of fire or other emergency
  • all reasonable precautions are taken to prevent the spread of infectious diseases
    the animal(s) accommodation is such that it can take adequate exercise

But if you had a big garden with a very sturdy fence and were willing to eat the medical costs (and spend a few hours reading 'Elephant-keeping for Dummies') you'd be able to argue that you were a fit and proper person.


A gift with conditions subsequent is not a gift

Someone gave me an elephant and told me not to give it away or sell it.

What we have here is not a gift - a gift is unconditional. A gift requires three things: intent of the gifted, transfer of the property, and acceptance by the gifted. It also can’t come with “strings attached” - or conditions that apply after the gift is given. Conditions that apply before the gift (get good grades and I’ll give you an elephant) are fine, but once given it’s your elephant to do with what you will.

So a) you can refuse the gift, and b) if you accept, you can ignore any supposed conditions that come with it.

It’s also not a contract

A contract requires consideration on both sides - a quid pro quo. You got an elephant from them , what did you give or promise in return? If nothing, then there is no contract.

Now if you promised to care for the elephant and not sell it or give it away then we have a contract and you must keep your promises.

… unless it’s illegal

Private arrangements, whether gift or contract, do not allow you to break the law. If it’s illegal for you to have an elephant, then it’s illegal for you to have an elephant.

If it’s too expensive for you to keep an elephant in accordance with the law but you nevertheless contracted to do so, then you must break your contract and possibly be sued for doing so.

  • This simply isn't true. I can gift you a puppy, but you've got to feed it or you'll go to jail
    – Richard
    Jan 21, 2023 at 16:27
  • 5
    @Richard a gift can't have restrictions imposed by the giver. Legal restrictions are irrelevant. You won't go to jail for giving the puppy to someone else.
    – Someone
    Jan 21, 2023 at 17:44
  • 1
    @Someone - If you accept a gift, that can comes with pre-conditions, including that it not be resold.
    – Richard
    Jan 21, 2023 at 18:09
  • 7
    @Richard no, it can’t. If it has conditions it is not a gift. It might be a contract but it isn’t a gift.
    – Dale M
    Jan 21, 2023 at 22:02
  • @NeilMeyer a donation is a gift with special tax consequences but it’s still a gift. And no, I mean gift in the general sense.
    – Dale M
    Jan 22, 2023 at 7:44

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