Although existing laws in Britain, including the Animal Welfare Act 2006, should offer all pets, and those for sale, a certain level of protection, there is often confusion over their application and enforcement or they lack specific details in the first place. England, Scotland and Wales are now covered by The Animal Welfare (Licensing of Activities Involving Animals) Regulations 2018 (Schedule 3 is specific to ‘selling animals as pets’).
Legislation covers the sale of animals in pet shops, requiring any person keeping a pet shop to be licensed by their local authority, which should inspect the premises to ensure basic provisions for the animals’ welfare are being met. However, current legislation lacks species-specific guidance.
The Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976 (DWAA) requires inspection and licensing for some species of animals (including some primates) considered to pose a risk of human injury. The DWAA is first and foremost public health and safety legislation, and covers animal welfare only secondarily. The schedule to the DWAA lists the species that require a licence to be kept. However, the most commonly kept species of primate in the UK, the marmoset, is not listed.
All primates are listed on Annexes A and B of Council Regulation (EC) No 338/97 of the EU Wildlife Trade Regulations, which implement the provisions of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). The ownership of a primate as a pet for non-commercial purposes does not require paperwork under these Regulations.
In order to buy a primate listed on Annex A, the person selling the specimen is required to have a sales certificate issued under Article 10 of the EU CITES Regulations. Primates on Annex B can be traded without CITES paperwork within the EU providing there is proof of “legal acquisition”.
In 2010, the Code of Practice for the Welfare of Privately Kept Non-Human Primates was published by Defra. This code of practice applies to primates kept in private ownership and acts as a guide to meeting the requirements of the Animal Welfare Act. Born Free believes that even if the code is expanded to provide more detail, it will never be able to guarantee the welfare of primates kept as pets. Nonetheless, our Pet Shop Primates investigation indicated several areas where purchasing primates from pet shops may not meet the current guidelines in the Code of Practice.
In 2020, it was announced that the UK Government intended to ban the trade in and keeping of primates as pets in England. Born Free submitted our concerns and recommendations to the government consultation, which outlined proposals for a two-tier system, with specialist keepers licensed to keep, breed, and trade in primates, while other keepers would be allowed to keep their animals for the rest of their natural lives, subject to certain conditions.
In May 2021, the UK Government’s Animal Welfare Action Plan, published by DEFRA, confirmed the intention to legislate to prohibit primates as pets. Rather than a prohibition, current plans would create a licensing system as described above.
Legislation to restrict primate ownership is currently planned to be incorporated into the Animal Welfare Act 2006. While accompanying Standards are currently under development by DEFRA. The legislation would apply to the trade in and keeping of all primates in private ownership. As a key stakeholder, Born Free has provided input into the proposed Standards and will continue to push for the prompt implementation of legislation, while also emphasising that every effort must be made to ensure the welfare of existing pet primates through the remainder of their lives is as good as possible.