Speaking up for Snakes

Organisations, including Born Free, call on DEFRA to improve standards for snakes in pet shops.

A yellow snake in a glass case

© J McArthur, Born Free

Born Free, in coalition with the Animal Protection Agency, Freedom for Animals, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and World Animal Protection, has written to The Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) urging them to implement improved minimum dimensions for snakes kept in pet shops, to ensure the animals can fully stretch. 

Current government guidelines under The Animal Welfare (Licensing of Activities Involving Animals) (England) Regulations 2018 state that snakes in pet shops must be housed in enclosures that are a minimum of just two-thirds of the snake’s body length. The legislation and accompanying statutory guidance are currently undergoing a Post-Implementation Review. With the outcomes expected imminently, Born Free and its coalition partners have taken the opportunity to remind DEFRA of the ever-mounting evidence highlighting the need for snakes to be able to stretch to their full length.

Snakes need to fully extend their bodies for their comfort, health and welfare, but are currently the only vertebrate animals that are not afforded this necessity under English law. Prior to the Regulation’s enactment, a draft of the accompanying guidance provided a minimum standard plus a higher standard for enclosures to be a minimum of the full length of the snake. This higher standard was adopted in Wales but was reduced by DEFRA to two thirds the length of the snake.

Defra’s initial explanation was that it had received evidence contradicting the need for snakes to fully stretch. However, the only supporting evidence it could show as to why it reached this conclusion was a single letter containing no evidence that was written by well-known snake hobbyists, sellers, and vets belonging to a single veterinary clinic.

The Animal Welfare (Sentience) Act 2022 recognises that snakes are sentient beings. It is of utmost importance to snake welfare that they can stretch their whole body in all dimensions, as is overwhelmingly supported by scientific evidence. Born Free remains opposed to the keeping of wild animals as pets, including snakes. However, while such practices are allowed to continue under UK law, we are calling on DEFRA to ensure animal welfare legislation is urgently updated to ensure snake welfare is not further compromised by wholly inadequate enclosure standards.