The recent two-part ITV documentary Britain’s Tiger Kings – On The Trail With Ross Kemp highlighted the growing problems associated with the keeping of wild animals as pets.
In response to the documentary, Born Free’s co-founder and Executive President Will Travers OBE said: “I think most people will have found it unbelievable that, in this day and age, so many dangerous animals, including big cats, bears, crocodiles and venomous snakes, are being kept as pets by private individuals across the UK. Increasing demand for all kinds of wild animals as exotic pets puts owners and the wider public at risk of injury or disease. It can also cause serious animal suffering, and the demand may increase the pressure on many wild populations which are often already under threat.”
Born Free believes the documentary provided further evidence of the need for far greater restrictions on the trade in and keeping of wild animals as pets in the UK. For many years Born Free has been highlighting the fact that obtaining a Dangerous Wild Animals (DWA) licence is far too easy, and calling for reform. As well as failing to keep the public safe, the Dangerous Wild Animals Act does not adequately address animal welfare and takes no account of wildlife conservation or owner suitability.
Earlier this year, Born Free revealed almost 4,000 wild animals were being kept privately under DWA licenses across Great Britain (https://www.bornfree.org.uk/news/dwa-2021). This number is believed to be the tip of the iceberg, given many species don’t currently require a licence, and long-standing concerns that there is widespread non-compliance with the Act. Our interactive map (at the same link) clearly shows where licensed dangerous wild animals can be found.
Some of these animals are kept for commercial purposes, however the majority are believed to be kept by individuals as pets, a practice that is on the increase; Born Free’s data suggests an increase of at least 59% in dangerous wild animals kept as pets since 2000.
At the time of its inception, the Dangerous Wild Animals Act was intended to make the private keeping of dangerous wild animals an exceptional circumstance, however the ongoing increase in wild animals kept as pets flies in the face of the intention of the Act.
While modest changes have been made to the Schedule (species covered by the Act) over the years, the Act itself has not been substantially updated for more than 40 years. There are still species absent from the Schedule which, under other legislation, including the Zoo Licensing Act, are regarded as a risk to the public, such as large varanid lizards like Komodo dragons, large python & boa species, and a number of birds of prey.
Will Travers continued: “It’s high time for a comprehensive review of the Dangerous Wild Animals Act and its Schedule, and far greater restrictions on the trade in and keeping of wild animals as pets in the UK. As a minimum, we are calling for full consideration of whether the welfare needs of individual animals can be met, and owners have necessary qualifications and experience; a guarantee that the trade does not compromise conservation of species in the wild; due consideration of potential environmental concerns (such as the establishment of invasive species through escapes, the deliberate releases of unwanted pets, and the possible spread of zoonotic diseases); and confirmation there is no risk to wider health and safety of animals or people.”
As part of its campaign on this issue Born Free, in collaboration with the RSPCA, has launched a petition calling on the Government to review and reform laws on the private keeping of Dangerous Wild Animals (https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/581252).
Born Free has also created an interactive map detailing the dangerous wild animals licensed to be kept privately by local authority (https://www.bornfree.org.uk/dwamap)