It is thought there are tens of thousands of exotic pets kept by private individuals in the UK. The range of species kept as pets has greatly increased over the past decades. In theory, anyone can keep any animal species, although certain restrictions may be imposed by legislation relating to endangered species and/or status as a threat to humans. For example, the Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976 requires the licensing of any animal listed on its schedule of dangerous species, such as big cats, bears, venomous snakes, etc.
The Act is first and foremost public health and safety legislation, and covers animal welfare only secondarily. The Act only covers those species that are assessed to be dangerous to humans, which does not include the most commonly kept species of primates in the UK (such as marmosets), for example. This means the ownership of such animals is largely unregulated.
In 2021, Born Free revealed nearly 4,000 dangerous wild animals were being kept privately, and legally, under licence in Great Britain under the Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976, including at least 320 wild cats, 274 primates and 508 venomous snakes. Overall, there has been a 59% increase in exotic pets held under a dangerous wild animal’s licence from 2000 – 2020. Concerningly figures for wild cats and primates have continued to rise since Born Free’s last survey in 2017.
Born Free is calling for the UK government to undertake a comprehensive review of the current dangerous wild animal legislation. Any amendments should ensure far greater restrictions on the trade in and keeping of wild animals as pets in the UK, based on thorough and precautionary criteria around whether animals are suitable as pets. Such criteria should include: