Close of of the head of a snake with yellow and black markings

Exotic Pet Sales

Born Free opposes the keeping and sale of wild animals as exotic pets.

We are increasingly concerned by the number of wild animals available for sale to the general public. The demand for exotic pets fuels both legal and illegal wildlife trade, and the scale of the industry – pet shops, trade fairs and online advertisements – is huge.


Two blue and gold macaws sitting on the top of a wire cage

Buying any pet online is a cause for concern as it is often impossible to know the animal’s history.

Born Free and Blue Cross’ One Click Away report, published in 2015, revealed that across a sample of just six websites, there were around 25,000 adverts offering more than 120 types of exotic animals for sale. Animals for sale included numerous types of reptiles, exotic birds, primates and many other small mammals – many of which are particularly vulnerable when kept as pets.

Areas of particular concern were:

  • Adverts not properly identifying the species for sale. Of the 347 adverts selling lizards, 38% could not be identified as a particular species. Four adverts listed ‘various birds’ for sale
  • Animals advertised as being in ‘poor health’ or offered as ‘swaps’ or for ‘quick sales’
  • An advert for a boa constrictor with a history of aggression
  • Adverts for wild cats, including ocelots, serval, caracal and leopard cats.

The online pet trade is largely unregulated and sellers may advertise animals suffering from health or behavioural problems. The sale of animals online and in shops means purchases can be made on impulse without guaranteeing the necessary space, equipment or knowledge needed to care for them correctly.


Two rows of three wire cages are stacked on top of each other, containing dozens of small brightly coloured birds

There are more than 2,000 licensed high street pet shops in the UK, and the majority sell one or more species of wild animal as exotic pets, including monkeys, meerkats, parrots, lizards and snakes (some venomous).

Frequently, pet shops fail to ensure that purchasers are aware of the specialised care these animals need. Pet shop staff may also be lacking relevant knowledge themselves.

Animals for sale in shops are frequently displayed or kept in poor conditions and potentially stressful situations. In particular, reptiles and amphibians are commonly displayed in glass tanks with little protection from customers or kept in small boxes stacked on top of each other. Some pet shops actively encourage public contact with their animals and offer encounter sessions.

In 2014, Born Free commissioned an investigation into the sale of primates in 21 licensed pet shops in England to uncover the scale and scope of problems relating to the sale of primates as pets. Read the full report:

Pet Shop Primates


A selection of around 16 plastic tubs with lids are laid out on a table, each containing a small snake, with a label of the type of snake inside.

Thousands of wild animals, worldwide and in the UK, are sold at exotic pet markets such as reptile and amphibian expos and bird shows.

The welfare of animals on display and sold in these markets is a real concern. Animals may be stored or displayed in restrictive boxes or cages. They are exposed to thousands of people and loud noises, and subject to stressful transportation.

The source of the animals sold at these markets cannot be guaranteed and it may be difficult for a purchaser to contact a seller after the markets have gone.


Close up of a bearded dragon sitting on a dish filled with food

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.

Pet shops in England, Scotland and Wales are covered by the relevant country’s version of The Animal Welfare (Licensing of Activities Involving Animals) Regulations, with Schedule 3 being specific to selling animals as pets. This legislation requires any person keeping a pet shop to be licensed by their local authority. The local authority should inspect the premises to ensure that basic provisions for the animals’ welfare are being met. However, the Regulations still lack species-specific animal welfare guidance.

The Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976(DWAA) requires inspection and licensing for some species of animals, including some primates, that are considered to pose a risk of human injury. The DWAA is first and foremost public health and safety legislation, with animal welfare only a secondary consideration. The Schedule to the DWAA lists the species that require a licence to be kept. However, many commonly-kept species are not listed.


Due to the huge scale of unsuitable and potentially dangerous animals widely available to buy, Born Free is urging the UK government to fully review the exotic pet trade. We are calling for:

  • An urgent review of legislation to reflect the large-scale sale of animals on the internet and the ongoing sale of exotic species in pet shops
  • An extension of the Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976 to include species of large constrictor snakes
  • Mandatory publication and independent review of mortality data from pet suppliers, pet shops and breeders
  • An end to the transport of pets by mail/general courier
  • A ban on the private keeping of primates.