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Exotic animals in L.A.'s urban jungle

Among Southern California's wild pets: Bubbles the chimp and alligators named Bonnie and Clyde

Residents of Van Nuys discovered this month that an alligator named Jaxson had been living in a neighbor's backyard for the last 37 years.

But it is far from the only story of exotic pets living among us in Southern California. Over the years, officials have found leopards, hyenas, exotic birds, lions, armadillos and even a camel.

Who are some of the more famous exotic animals?

You have to start with Michael Jackson's beloved chimp, Bubbles. Bubbles was a tabloid sensation in the 1980s, and when there were false rumors that he had died, Jackson's publicist said: "When Bubbles heard about his demise, he went bananas." There are also famous photos of actress Tippi Hedren and her daughter, actress Melanie Griffith, hanging out poolside with their pet lion, Neil. In suburban southern Orange County, a family fought for years to keep its beloved pets, a pair of 400-pound alligators named Bonnie and Clyde.

At the turn of the last century, The Times wrote frequently about actress Sarah Bernhardt, who was famous for having a menagerie of exotic pets, including goats and spiders.

Have popular exotic animals changed over the years?

Yes. A case in point is the pot-bellied pig. They were all the rage in the 1980s and early 1990s. Some owners paid thousands of dollars for the creatures, who looked cute when they were young. But they swell to 250 pounds and were more difficult to care for than many owners expected.

How many wild-animal permits have been issued in Los Angeles?

Currently, there are 98 wild animal permits issued, according to Cmdr. Mark Salazar of the Animal Services Department. Permit holders must renew them every year. But that's not the only hurdle. People must also obtain permits from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

So there are 98 wild animals living in L.A.?

No. Most permits are issued for special events and filming, not for residential pets, Salazar said.

What types of exotic animals can you get permits for?

Permit holders can have anything from squirrels to large cats and bears.

So how many alligators are in L.A. legally?

The Animal Services department has granted seven permits for multiple alligators, but only one permit holder actually lives in the city, Salazar said. And the alligator is at a wildlife learning center. The remaining six who hold permits for alligators live outside the city but conduct business in L.A. Combined, the seven permit holders have 36 alligators.

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