Pet Primate Licensing Regulations Pass into Law

Born Free cautiously welcomes new regulations requiring all primate owners in England to obtain a licence, which passed into law on 5th March.

A marmoset monkey being held in human hand

© S Kinmartin / Flickr

The Animal Welfare (Primate Licences) (England) Regulations, which sit underneath the Animal Welfare Act, will now require anyone within England who owns a primate to obtain a licence by April 2026.

According to the government, in order to obtain a licence, a keeper will need to demonstrate that they can keep their animals to ‘zoo standards’. The announcement is a culmination of over 20 years’ work by Born Free and other organisations to end the keeping of primates as pets.

Reacting to the announcement, Born Free’s Captivity Research Officer, Chris Lewis said:

“Primates have highly complex welfare and social needs which cannot be met in a domestic environment. Born Free has been working for many years to try and secure a ban on the trade in and keeping of privately kept primates. While the Regulations do not ban their keeping, as previously promised by the Government, the Regulations have the potential to greatly reduce the numbers being kept, and the likelihood of animals being kept in extremely poor conditions.

“It is now of paramount importance that the accompanying guidance is robust and enforceable to ensure any primates which remain under licence are kept in conditions which aim to meet their needs as far as possible.”

As revealed in our latest research, over 250 primates are currently kept under the Dangerous Wild Animals Act. However, there are believed to be up to 5,000 primates owned privately in Britain, as the vast majority do not fall under the remit of the Dangerous Wild Animals Act, including common marmosets, which are believed to be the most commonly kept species. Under these new Regulations, all primate keepers will require a licence, regardless of whether their primate is classified as “dangerous” or not. It is hoped that this will finally provide an accurate indication of how many primates are in private ownership across England.

Born Free is continuing to coordinate communications between stakeholder organisations and Defra to ensure the development of robust guidance to accompany the Regulations.

There remain concerns around the lack of exact figures for primates currently being kept; the fate of primates whose owners cannot meet the new Regulations and who will be breaking the law come April 2026, due to sanctuary space being unavailable; the likely burden the Regulations will place on Local Authorities and rescue organisations; and the lack of suitable persons with appropriate knowledge to carry out inspections. Additionally, the Regulations currently only apply to England, and no such plans have been announced for devolved administrations.

Born Free will continue to work with partner organisations so that every effort is made to ensure the welfare of existing primates within England and push for devolved administrations to adopt an outright ban.

Pet Primates

Two white headed capuchin monkeys, one holding a white plastic bag with its mouth open and the other moving towards the bag


Take a look at our map of Great Britain, to see if any licences for dangerous wild animals are held in your local area.

Dangerous Wild Animals Map