UK law on keeping wild animals needs to be overhauled

Exotic pets are popular in the UK. The word “exotic” means wild animal in this context. Under the Dangerous Wild Animals Act licences were issued for the keeping of 3,951 wild animals in Great Britain (2020). The number of exotic pets has increased since 2000. Campaigners believe that the current legislation does not adequately address animal welfare and is not take into account wildlife conservation.

Grey parrot from Ghana
Grey parrot from Ghana. Picture: Pixabay.

Further, they believe that Britain has piecemeal laws on exotic pets. Research indicates that the trade in wild animals is driving a devastating biodiversity loss. Both the Born Free Foundation and the RSPCA want a system where pets are chosen from a single permitted list rather than threatened species being banned in respect of ownership on a piecemeal, case-by-case basis.

The Born Free Foundation has a petition on the UK government website calling for a comprehensive review and greater restrictions on the trade and the keeping of wild animals in the UK. The review should look at whether the welfare needs of the animals are met and whether the owners of these animals have the necessary experience and qualifications. The review also needs to look at conservation issues and potential environmental concerns such as the escape of invasive species. And, finally, it needs to consider the risk to public and animal health and safety including the transmission of diseases from animals to people (zoonotic diseases).

The Born Free website has a copy of their report which is downloadable. You can reach that page by clicking on the link below. The report has been published ahead of the second reading of the UK government’s Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill.

Born Free Exotic Pets UK Report

The report found that in Britain there are around 1.8 million reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates inside the homes of residents. And there are an estimated 1.3 million indoor birds and around hundred million ornamental fish. 90% of the fish are saltwater species taken directly from the wild.

The RSPCA and Born Free believe that often people do not have the experience and skills to look after the animals properly to the detriment of the animals’ health and welfare. In 2020, there were 6,119 incidents involving 22,865 exotic animals dealt with by the RSPCA. The majority of the callouts were due to a lack of understanding of how to care for the animals.

I suspect, too, that most people who adopt exotic pets do not take into account the impact that they are having on the conservation of this animals. The trade in wild animals is having a devastating impact upon their survivability in the wild. It is a worldwide multibillion dollar business and unfortunately the majority of people who are enamoured of exotic species of animal do not consider the wider implications of what they want to do.

Sometimes ecologists have to protect species from exploitation by non-disclosure of their location when their reports are published online in scientific journals.

The report found that there was a five times greater risk of extinction of reptile species when they were traded as pets. And for mammal species there was a three times greater likelihood of extinction. Ghana has lost between 90% and 99% of his gray parrot population due to the exotic pet trade. The journey for these birds starts with trappers and wild animal traders in Ghana taking the birds from the wild.

The current legislation is described as reactionary and what the campaigners want is something which is more proactive. Will Travers OBE, Co-Founder and Executive President of the Baldry Foundation said:

“Current legislation relating to the trade in and keeping of exotic pets is reactionary and unable to keep up with or predict where demand will be focused in the future. This not only places government and policymakers on the back foot, but also results in countless species being imported into the exotic pet trade before legislation can take effect, with potentially disastrous consequences for conservation and animal welfare.”

Campaigners also want a ban on the trading of primates between licence-holders. Defra is legislating to ban the keeping of primates as pets and have recently increased the maximum prison sentence for animal cruelty to 5 years.


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