A marmoset in a cage holds on to the bars as it looks through

Wild Animals as Pets

Born Free is increasingly concerned by the number of wild animals being traded and kept as exotic pets, both legally and illegally. The international trade in wild animals as ‘exotic pets’ is estimated to be worth billions of pounds annually and involves millions of individual animals.

Vast numbers of animals such as reptiles, amphibians, birds and tropical fish are commonly traded and kept as pets, while the number of privately-owned mammals such as wild cats and primates is believed to be growing. Wild animals are widely available from pet shops, trade fairs, markets and breeders. These animals can be found advertised for sale in newspapers and online.

Close up of a white person's hand holding a corn snake between its fingers

Wild animals, whether taken from the wild or born in captivity, have complex needs that cannot be met by private keepers in a domestic environment. There are many animal welfare issues involved and the staggering number of dangerous wild animals kept privately is also a genuine risk to human safety.

Born Free is opposed to the trade in and keeping of wild and exotic animals as pets. We investigate and expose the ‘exotic pet’ industry, and challenge both the legal and illegal trade in wild animals as well as campaigning for national and international legislation to reduce and, where possible, end the exotic pet trade.

We proudly rescue individual animals that have either been kept as pets or captured from the wild to supply the demand of the pet trade. We provide them with a high standard of lifetime care in sanctuaries or – where possible – return them to life in the wild.

What’s the difference between a domesticated pet and a wild animal?

Domestic pets have been selectively bred and have had close contact with humans for thousands of years. Wild or exotic animals are not domesticated; even if they have been raised around humans, this can pose serious risks to both animal and human health and safety.

What are the issues?


A marmoset in a cage holds on to the bars as it looks through

Life in captivity is extremely different to life in the wild. The needs of many species kept as exotic pets aren’t well understood by science, let alone traders and keepers. As a consequence, it is really difficult to ensure these animals are adequately provided for. We fear that many exotic pets are commonly deprived of even their basic welfare requirements, including a suitable environment, suitable diet, the ability to exhibit normal behaviours, their social needs which are often complex, and freedom from pain, injury and disease. Not only that, keeping wild animals in captivity causes undue stress and frustration that often turns into Zoochosis.

Many exotic pets become unwanted or too challenging for their owners and may be simply abandoned or released, while others may escape. Space in genuine rescue centres and sanctuaries for exotic pets is extremely scarce.

A bearded dragon sitting on a rock in a tank

The exotic pet trade has been described as ‘an important and increasing driver of biodiversity loss.’ We’re in the midst of an extinction crisis with a million or more species threatened with extinction because of human activities, and trade in wild animals, including exotic pets, is part of the problem. The collection of live animals for the exotic pet trade disrupts ecosystems and has led to serious, and in some cases catastrophic, population and species declines. Rare species are especially targeted as they tend to attract higher prices. Whilst some animals are bred in captivity to supply demand, many animals are captured from the wild. Not only is this practice extremely inhumane, but it’s also incredibly dangerous for the animals and humans that are involved. The demand for wild animals as pets fuels both the legal and illegal wildlife trade.

Nonindigenous, ‘invasive’ species are considered to be a major cause of global biodiversity loss, often impacting the local environment and causing a threat to native species. In some cases, exotic pets released into the wild have established free-living populations that cause havoc among native wildlife.

Many species kept as exotic pets are potentially dangerous. They retain their natural instincts and may be unpredictable, while inflicting serious injury or transmitting harmful diseases. There have been numerous incidences of exotic pet attacks around the world, resulting in serious human injury or death.

A Chameleon sits on a persons hand in front of plain grey background

© George Logan

Legal restrictions on the trade and keeping of exotic pets vary significantly by country. Some countries have regional or national legislation governing the trade and keeping of wild animals as pets, while others have little or no specific legislation.

Some countries, or regions/states within a country, have regulations on the keeping of some or all wild species as pets. In Great Britain, certain species considered to pose a risk to the public require a licence to be privately kept under the Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976. However, legal protections for animals and people vary greatly around the world and may be absent or extremely weak.

Similarly, many of the species currently traded internationally for the exotic pet trade are not protected by conventions such as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

More information on wild animals kept as pets

A small crocodile sits submerged in water facing to the right of the image, with just the top of its head and eyes above the water

Dangerous Wild Animals

Wild animals have vastly differing physical, psychological, nutritional, social, and environmental requirements which cannot be met in a domestic environment.

Pet Primates

Born Free and primatology experts agree that primates are completely ill-suited for private ownership - however it can still be legal to keep primates as pets.
Close of of the head of a snake with yellow and black markings

Pet Sales

Born Free opposes the keeping and sale of wild animals as exotic pets, and is concerned by the increasing number of wild animals on sale to the public.
A close-up image of a reptile's eye

Exotic Pets in the UK: Take Action

Born Free believes that the keeping of wild animals as ‘exotic pets’ in the UK is an issue that urgently needs addressing and significant change.
Two lion cubs lying on a tartan blanket

Exotic Pet Rescue

Born Free is proud to have rescued and rehomed numerous wild animals previously kept as ‘exotic’ pets or caught up in the wildlife and exotic pet trade.


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

One Click Away

An investigation into the online sale of exotic animals as pets
A brown capuchin monkey sits in the corner of a room with wooden board walls

Pet Shop Primates

An investigation into the sale of non-human primates by licensed pet shops in England