Exotic species and the law

Legal aspects of keeping exotic species as pets

source: Penny Cusdin
In Practice vol 24 no 7, July/August 2002
starts p398, 4 pages long

Vets are increasingly being asked to treat exotic animals, so they need to know about UK laws on keeping such animals as pets. The 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act covers British wildlife, but exotic species are defined as species that aren't normally British natives. The 1976 Dangerous Wild Animals Act deals with public safety issues arising from private keeping of species listed in a Schedule. Laboratories, zoos, and other commercial enterprises are exempt. The Act deals with arrangments for the care of these species, rather than banning them as pets. The Schedule in force in July 2002 was set out in 1984, and includes spiders, scorpions, reptiles, birds, and mammals. A local authority licence is needed to keep animals listed in the Schedule. Vets have to visit the premises where the animals are kept. The licence has to be renewed annually, and has to state numbers of animals as well as the species.

Bengal cats and wolf-dog hybrids need a licence, even if they are far removed from leopard cats or wolves. All members of the crocodile family, and poisonous snakes are also included, as are most primates. Non-poisonous snakes, birds of prey, and parrots are not included. The British adder is included, though most British wildlife is excluded.

Vets have a duty to clients of maintaining confidentiality, but where the animal's welfare is at stake, or there are public safety concerns, vets may need to report cases of unlicenced animals to the local authority.

The 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act aims to protect species native to Britain. It is both illegal to release non-indigenous species, and to take wild-living native species as pets, or to kill them. Animals may be looked after because they are disabled, and they then have to be released. Euthanasia is permitted if the animal's medical condition warrants it.

Other relevant legislation includes CITES laws relating to trade in species that are endangered. Vets may have trouble assessing whether animals they see have been legally imported, though they can report suspicions to the police or their local authority.