Is it time to ban exotic pet ownership?

8 September 2023


Born Free welcomes Good Morning Britain debate on the keeping of exotic pets.

A photo of a Burmese python

On Thursday 7 September, Good Morning Britain debated whether exotic pet ownership should be banned following a spate of recent snake escapes across Britain. Born Free is opposed to the trade in and keeping of wild and exotic animals as pets. We would like to applaud ITV and the Good Morning Britain team for discussing this important animal welfare issue, however we have concerns about how the issue was presented.

Sadly, the debate opened with a “professional handler” holding several different species of snake. The inclusion of captive wild animals in the studio during the debate was unnecessary and likely very stressful for the snakes involved. The snakes were of different species and were held together. One of the snakes appeared to have a clouded eye cap, which is an indication that the snake is about to shed its skin (a process known as ecdysis). At these times, snakes are extremely vulnerable to predation and would typically seek out a quiet, dark space. Removing them from their environmentally controlled enclosure, transporting them to a television studio and handling them in the bright and noisy studio environment is likely to be extremely stressful and detrimental to their welfare, while also posing the risk of complications in the skin shedding process. We would urge ITV and the Good Morning Britain team to desist from displaying captive wild animals in their studios in future as their presence places the animals and the people involved at unnecessary risk and is not an essential component of the debate.

Wild animals, whether they are taken from the wild or born in captivity, have complex needs that cannot be met by private keepers in a domestic environment. The needs of many species kept as exotic pets aren’t well understood by science, let alone traders and keepers. Despite this, it is currently legal in the UK to keep almost any wild animal as a pet, which can have severe consequences for animal welfare, conservation, human and animal health & safety and the risk of invasive species as highlighted in our joint report with the RSCPA, ‘The Exotic Pet-demic‘.

Elsewhere in Europe, several countries are developing or have already implemented regulatory systems known as ‘positive lists’, while the Scottish Animal Welfare Commission recently recommended that the Scottish Government should consider the merits of such a list. Positive list systems permit the keeping of only those species on the list. The development and implementation of a positive list is based on systematic, objective, evidence-based assessments of risks to animal welfare, wildlife conservation, human health and safety, and the wider environment, thus aiming to ensure that species are only included on the list if the risks are low.

Born Free believes that the keeping of wild animals as ‘exotic pets’ in the UK is an issue that urgently needs addressing. We are calling on the UK Government to review and reform laws on exotic pet ownership, including giving consideration to the development and implementation of a robust ‘positive list’ system.