International wildlife charity Born Free releases data revealing the true extent of dangerous wild animal ownership in Britain. The shocking research confirms the scale and seriousness of exotic animals being kept as ‘pets’ and highlights the urgent need for better regulation to protect the public and these, often threatened, wild creatures.

“It is unbelievable that, in this day and age, so many dangerous animals, including big cats, large primates, crocodiles and venomous snakes, continue to be legally kept in people’s homes.

Dr Mark Jones, Born Free’s Head of Policy

  • More than 2,700 dangerous wild animals licensed for private ownership.
  • Ten times more deadly venomous snakes kept in British homes than in zoos.
  • Born Free is calling for urgent action to tighten legislation to minimise risk to the public and to safeguard the welfare of wild animals.

On the 22nd Feb 2024: International wildlife charity Born Free released new data exposing the number of dangerous wild animals being kept legally as ‘pets’ in the UK.

Research undertaken by Born Free found that in 2023 more than 2,700 dangerous wild animals were being kept privately in Great Britain under licences permitted by the Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976. This number includes more than 200 wild cats, 250 primates and 400 venomous snakes.

Among the disturbing array of wild animals kept legally in people’s homes are bush vipers in Bedfordshire, cheetahs in Cheshire, caiman in Kent and lynx in Lincolnshire. The full regional data, collected from local authorities, is available to view on Born Free’s ‘Dangerous Wild Animals Map’ here: https://www.bornfree.org.uk/dwamap/. Anyone can log-on and see if there is a dangerous wild animal, such as a lion, alligator or venomous reptile, living near them.

The staggering fact that there are nearly three thousand wild creatures classified as dangerous under UK law, being kept as ‘pets’ across Britain, is of great concern to Born Free. The keeping of such animals threatens the safety of people and other animals, and results in considerable suffering. Unlike domesticated animals, which have been bred over generations to live alongside humans, these wild animals have complex physical, psychological, nutritional, social, and environmental needs which cannot be met by a life in captivity. As a result, these, often threatened, creatures can suffer poor health and psychological damage. Increased demand for exotic ‘pets’ also puts pressure on wild populations of many already threatened species.

Wild animals being kept in domestic settings also presents a very real risk to public safety. These animals retain many of their natural, wild behaviours, and being kept in stressful, unnatural, confined environments, can potentially make them more dangerous. There are also major concerns about the possible transmission of zoonotic diseases from animals to humans associated with the keeping of captive wild animals.

Disturbingly, Born Free also discovered that some councils are unaware of the exact species of animal being kept, despite a requirement to identify this within the legislation, which raises further serious animal welfare, and health and safety, concerns.

The research reveals several troubling trends, including the continued popularity of owning small wild cats, or hybrids (crosses between a wild and domestic cat). There were 53 servals (across 29 different licences) and 43 hybrid wild cats (across 21 different licences), making them the most, and second-most, licensed species on the list. This current craze appears to be driven by their presence in posts across social media, and is particularly alarming. Once the hybridised animals produce offspring, they no longer require a Dangerous Wild Animals licence, despite the high representation of wild genes which remain within the animals. It is also of concern to Born Free that the number of lemurs has increased from 151 to 175 since 2020, highlighting the ongoing need for greater restrictions on the keeping of primates as pets.

Born Free has been campaigning to protect the welfare of exotic wild animals kept as ‘pets’ since 2005 and has regularly monitored the scale of dangerous wild animal ownership since 2017. The research released today shows that it remains a huge issue that urgently needs addressing.

As a result of its findings, Born Free is calling on the UK government to review the Dangerous Wild Animals Act. The charity is asking the public to join them in campaigning for change by writing to their local MP using the form found here: bornfree.org.uk/dangerous-wild-animals/ to demand improved regulation that will ensure far greater restrictions on the trade in, and keeping of, wild animals as ‘pets’ in the UK. The country needs better legislation which fully considers:

  • Whether individual animal welfare needs can be fully met, and owners have the necessary qualifications and experience and can provide the right environment to meet those needs
  • Whether the trade is likely to compromise the conservation of species in the wild
  • Potential environmental concerns, such as the escape of potentially invasive species
  • Risks to public and animal health & safety, including the spread of zoonotic diseases

Dangerous animals are not ‘pets’ to be kept by private owners, but wild creatures that deserve protection and to live as nature intended.

Dr Mark Jones, Born Free’s Head of Policy said“It is unbelievable that, in this day and age, so many dangerous animals, including big cats, large primates, crocodiles and venomous snakes, continue to be legally kept in people’s homes in the UK. Increasing demand for and trade in all kinds of wild animals as exotic pets puts owners and the wider public at risk of injury or disease. It also results in serious animal suffering, and the demand increases the pressure on many wild populations which are often already under threat. The UK likes to claim to be at the forefront of efforts to protect nature and improve the welfare of animals, yet our legislation governing the keeping of and trade in exotic pets is woefully outdated. The Dangerous Wild Animals Act should be overhauled as a matter of urgency, in order to phase out the private keeping of those species that clearly don’t belong in people’s homes.”

Chris Lewis, Born Free’s Captivity Research Officer added, “The Dangerous Wild Animals Act was intended to make the keeping of such animals categorised as “dangerous” a wholly exceptional circumstance. However, Born Free’s ongoing research paints a very different picture. Many members of the public will rightly be shocked to learn of so many animals being kept by private keepers. Yet, at its core, the Act is based upon the assumption that it is possible to keep dangerous wild animals in a way that minimises or eliminates risk to the public and in a manner that meets an animal’s welfare needs. This has resulted in legislation being reactionary, struggling to keep pace with ever-changing scientific evidence and becoming increasingly out-of-date. The regulations pertaining to the keeping and trading of wild animals kept as pets are in urgent need of review.”

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