New report: uk’s exotic pet boom is a ‘ticking timebomb’


Born Free and the RSPCA call for an urgent review of current exotic pet legislation following publication of a joint report.

In a hard-hitting new joint report, The Exotic Pet-demic: UK’s ticking timebomb exposed, Born Free and the RSPCA say the extensive trade in and keeping of exotic wild animals in the UK presents a ‘ticking time bomb’ for animal welfare, species conservation and human and animal health.

The report presents strong evidence that the private keeping of exotic wild animals poses significant risks to animal welfare, species conservation, animal and human health, and environmental integrity, and calls for urgent changes in the law.


Will Travers OBE, Co-founder and Executive President of the Born Free Foundation, said: “The exotic pet trade in the UK has increased dramatically since the 1950s, with at least 3 million reptiles, amphibians, invertebrates and birds being kept as pets and many more suspected of leading lives of suffering behind closed doors. UK regulation and legislation has not kept up with this boom and fails to adequately ensure these animals are being properly cared for and that their basic needs are being met.

“As well as potentially catastrophic welfare implications, our report shows this trade has clear impacts on the decline of species, risks to native populations of animals and, as the past year has shown starkly, risks to human health.

“Animals of all kinds, including many that are threatened with extinction, are taken from the wild or bred in captivity to supply the seemingly insatiable demand for exotic ‘pets’. Many of these are destined to end up in the United Kingdom, all too often in conditions which seriously compromise their welfare. Exotic pets can present a serious risk to the health and safety of their owners and other people and animals that might come into contact with them. In addition, non-native species can threaten our own native wildlife and may be vectors for disease.”

The report reveals that exotic pet ownership in the UK is extensive, driven by factors including an animal’s rarity or aesthetic appeal, portrayal in mainstream and social media, and personal status of the owner. The Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association’s 2021 report estimated that 59% of households (17 million) in the UK keep a total of over 33 million animals (excluding fish) as pets, with 11% of households having acquired a pet since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Chris Sherwood, the RSPCA’s Chief Executive, said: “Last year, the RSPCA handled more than 6,000 calls relating to almost 23,000 exotic pets – from lizards and snakes to raccoon dogs and monkeys. Many of the problems we deal with are the result of a lack of understanding how to care for exotic pets.  These animals have the same, complex needs as their wild brothers and sisters, but it can be extremely difficult to fulfill those requirements in a domestic environment and that leads to suffering.

“This important report highlights why the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill, which approaches its 2nd reading, doesn’t go far enough, particularly in its failure to propose a full ban on primates being kept as pets.  We also want to go further and restrict the keeping of other exotic, wild animals whose needs cannot be met in the home and who face a life of suffering if kept as pets. There needs to be better regulation of the keeping and trade in exotic pets, and we are proposing that the government gives consideration to a positive list system as a possible way forward.

“This report offers far-reaching recommendations and we hope it will be a springboard to further discussion about the way we regulate the keeping and trading of exotics and improve their welfare.”

Data shows the shocking extent of wild caught and captive bred animals being imported into the UK, as well as strong evidence of exotic pets being commonly deprived of one or more of the basic welfare requirements specified in UK legislation, including a suitable environment, suitable diet, the ability to exhibit normal behaviours, social needs, and freedom from pain, suffering, injury and disease.

The report says current laws are inadequate and need an urgent overhaul. Will Travers continued: “Current legislation relating to the trade in and keeping of exotic pets is reactionary and unable to keep up with or predict where demand will be focused in the future. This not only places government and policy makers on the back foot, but also results in countless species being imported into the exotic pet trade before legislation can take effect, with potentially disastrous consequences for conservation and animal welfare.”

With the release of this new report, The Exotic Pet-demic: UK’s ticking timebomb exposed, Born Free and the RSPCA are calling on the government to:

  • Amend the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill to close a loophole that would allow primates to be traded between license holders
  • To introduce further restrictions on other exotic wild animals being kept as pets
  • Consider and consult on the possibility of developing a robust ‘Positive List’ system to restrict the keeping of pets to those species which meet strict criteria aimed at ensuring their welfare and conservation, and protecting human, animal and environmental health
  • Consider and consult on its future approach to the trade in and keeping of exotic pets to mitigate and prevent animal welfare, conservation, human and animal health and safety, and environmental risks, as well as respecting species protections in other countries.

Take action today and help remove exotic animals from a sad life in captivity as pets!