A lion roaring Thousands of private collectors are keeping "dangerous wild animals" in the UK - Media Credit: IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA

Why Thousands Of ‘Dangerous Wild Animals’ Are Being Kept By Private Collectors In The UK

Thousands of "dangerous" exotic animals are being privately kept in England


4 Minutes Read

In news that may come as a shock to much of the British public, thousands of exotic animals like big cats, alligators, and venomous snakes are kept by private collectors across the country. 

A new survey from the Guardian has found that there are almost 2,500 “dangerous wild animals” in England, while a previous study from Born Free discovered close to 4,000 in Britain as a whole. 

These animals are kept by private individuals, not zoos. While some—such as wild boar, ostriches, and bison—are farmed, a growing number are kept simply as pets or as part of a “collection.”

The Buckinghamshire council area was found to have the most privately owned dangerous animals, with 325—including blackbuck antelope, capuchin monkeys, and lemurs—registered in the area. 

The research also found grey wolves in West Berkshire, alligators in Hampshire, and 14 species of exotic feline in Cornwall. 

Is it ethical to keep exotic animals as pets?

While you do need a license from your council to keep animals deemed “dangerous” under the Dangerous Wild Animals Act (1974), the legislation has sparked backlash for being both outdated and insufficient. 

“First and foremost it’s a public health and safety act, not an animal welfare act,” Chris Lewis, of Born Free Foundation, tells Plant Based News (PBN). “The intention of the act is purely to stop these animals injuring members of the public.”

Because of this, Lewis says, the animal welfare standards of the act are “incredibly limited” and “very outdated” when compared with other standards of welfare in the UK.

Many of these animals are kept in inappropriate housing and fed the wrong type of food. Primates who have been seized have been found in bird cages, while many animals have been kept in incorrect social groupings. 

There are also some wild animals that would be considered dangerous in a zoo, such as anacondas, which members of the public don’t need a license to keep. This means that there are many wild animals kept by private individuals who go completely unregulated. 

What’s more, dealers of animals deemed dangerous are under no obligation to check that the buyer has a license before they sell. This means that, in theory, people are able to purchase dangerous wild animals without one. 

Why do people buy wild animals?

In the past, the majority of people keeping these animals were doing so for farming purposes. 

However, the number of these farmed animals has declined in recent years, and many privately kept dangerous animals are now used for pets or collection. 

Popular animals for these purposes include venomous snakes and big cats. Many of these animals are bred and sold for hundreds or thousands of pounds, and they’ve been growing in popularity due to social media. 

“You see a lot of TikToks and Instagrams of people making [keeping wild animals] look glamorous,” says Lewis. “It shows the better side of it, it doesn’t show the other issues of it.”

Obtaining dangerous wild animals

While you’d struggle to buy these animals within the UK, many people are importing them from other countries. 

According to Lewis, there is a growing market for dangerous wild animals in Eastern Europe. The Czech Republic, in particular, has a large program for breeding tigers.

In addition, many of the lions kept by private individuals are ex-circus animals, after England, Wales, and Scotland banned their use in such performances in 2020. 

The future of keeping wild and exotic animals in England

It may come as a surprise to some that there are actually relatively few animals people cannot keep privately.

There is a list of invasive and non-natives species animals that can’t be kept under any circumstances (including racoons and red-eared terrapins), but there are otherwise very limited rules.

“Unless the animal is on that list, you can keep anything you want,” says Lewis. “There are certain things you need a license for, and the rest you can keep. It’s completely unregulated. You have no idea what’s been kept.”

Campaigners from Born Free have been urging the government to update its guidelines on keeping these animals. 

As well as pushing for revision of the DWA, they are campaigning for a “comprehensive review” of pet keeping in general. They believe that this review should consider whether welfare needs of the animal can be met in a captive setting, whether the owners have suitable qualifications and experience, and whether the keeping of that species has any negative impacts on conservation.

Lewis believes that we should follow in the footsteps of other European countries, including Belgium, which have “positive lists” outlining animals that can be kept. This would mean that more thought goes into which animals should make the list and which ones shouldn’t.

“We feel there needs to be much more stringent criteria in terms of assessing whether species should be kept,” he says. 

Find out how to support Born Free’s campaign here

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The Author

Polly Foreman

Polly is the Deputy Editor of Plant Based News. She has been vegan since 2014, and has written extensively on veganism, animal rights, and the environment.

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Chris Newman
Chris Newman
23 days ago

I think it would be helpful to clarify some of the very misleading and inaccurate information from the Born Free Foundation, and Animal Rights, not animal welfare organisation.  Born Free  and their spokesperson Chris Lewis have no concerns for animal welfare, indeed their actions in scaremongering and misleading the public with fake news is extremely damaging to the welfare of animals.

The truth of the matter is the welfare of pets kept under the Dangerous Wild Animals Act is fact the higher assured welfare of ANY animal kept in the UK as a pet. Of course, Mr Lewis is fully aware that it is a mandatory requirement for a competent vet to inspect the facility to ensure welfare needs for the animal are met, quite why he neglects to mention this ‘minor’ detail is one of life’s mystery.

One further correction to the misinformation peddled by Mr Lewis and his colleagues – “The intention of the Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976 was to make the private keeping of dangerous wild animals a wholly exceptional circumstance”.  That is entirely untruthful, that is NOT the intention of the Act, the intent is to protect the public and ensure the welfare of animals kept, something that is has done successfully for nearly fifty years.

So, to recap, the key points that Mr Lewis failed to mention:
(1) The Dangerous Wild Animals Act ensure the welfare of animal kept under license; it’s a mandatory requirement of a license being issued.
(2) The Act protects the public, there has never been a death cause to a member of pubic by an animal kept under licence.
(3) The Act is what is called an enabling Act, it is NOT a prohibitive Act

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