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UK Rules for Keeping Wild Animals

The regulations for keeping wild animals as pets, including some exotic creatures, fall under the Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976 in the United Kingdom.

Information in this help guide explains the legal process you must follow to keep a wild animal and how to get a licence from the local council.

Owning a Wild Animal ‘Legally’ and ‘Safely’

The laws for keeping or owning wild animals apply to (both):

  • Individuals who keep a wild animal as a pet (or a wild bird).
  • Any business that keeps wild animals or birds (e.g. circuses, farms, garden centres, pet shops, zoos).

A simple definition of a wild animal is one that fends for itself for food and shelter – not tame (e.g. foxes, primates, rats).

Note: Another section explains the rules for keeping wild birds in the United Kingdom (excluding those bred in captivity – such as game birds, poultry).

Getting a Licence to Keep a Wild Animal

Even though keeping wild animals in domestic situations is not illegal, you need to follow certain requirements, keep it safe, and care for it in a responsible manner.

The master section about wildlife explains how to check and apply for a licence to keep a wild animal if you need to get one from the local council.

How to Prove You Own an Animal

There are several ways of proving you ‘legally’ own an animal or a bird (e.g. supply some evidence that you did not capture it from the wild). Hence, it is important to keep an accurate record of where (and when) you took, found, or bought it.

Furthermore, you must take steps to ensure it cannot escape into the wild. Another section explains more about importing non-native animals into Britain and Northern Ireland.

Note: Owning a wild or dangerous animal without having the correct licence may result in an unlimited fine and a prosecution.

List of Licences for Wild Animals

You must have a valid licence to keep any wild animals listed on or classed as:

Note: The Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976 (Modification) (No.2) Order 2007 contains a full list of animals for which you need to hold a valid licence. It may also include hybrid and cross-bred animals, depending on how far removed it is from a wild ancestor.

Moving or Trading CITES-Controlled Species

You would need to apply for a Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) permit or certificate to move or trade endangered species.

If you are still unsure, the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) would be able to confirm whether the animal requires a licence.

Keeping a Wild Animal Without a Licence

The exceptions to the rules mean you can keep some wild animals without getting a licence, such as when it has been (any):

  • Bred in captivity.
  • Classed as one of the species with exemptions listed on the EC Habitats Directive.
  • Classed as a European protected species taken legally before the 31st of October 1981.
  • Taken from the wild before the 10th of June 1994.
  • Taken from the wild in a country which is not the United Kingdom or one of the countries in the European Union (EU).

Schedule 5 Protected Animals

As long as it meets the definition of ‘taken legally‘ and bred in captivity, you can keep an animal that is listed on schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (WCA).

WCA schedule 5 listed animals receive differing levels of protection. Hence, you would need to check what level of protection your animal has – as well as the restrictions relating to what you can and cannot do.

Types of Licences for Wild Animals

The kind of wild animal you want to keep, and what you plan on doing with it, determines which type of licence you would need to get, such as when keeping a:

  • Dangerous wild animal.
  • Non-indigenous mammal (A04).
  • Living or dead animal not already covered by one of the other licences (e.g. form A37 for purposes unrelated to education or science).

Registering with Natural England

There are several different licences used to notify Natural England about your intentions for dead animals. As a rule, it will take about two (2) weeks to get a licence to:

  • Possess plants and animals for scientific purposes (CL01). Typical examples include museums, and research or educational establishments keeping dead specimens of wild animals for scientific or educational purposes.
  • Possess and transport dead specimens of certain species of wild animals (CL06) such as when individuals have taken animals from the wild before the 21st of August 2007 for science or education purposes.
  • Transport specimens of dead protected species (listed under annex 4 of the Habitats Directive) for scientific or educational purposes (GL02). A typical example would be a taxidermist intending to use an animal for taxidermy.

Related Help Guides

Note: This short video [3:49 seconds] contains more information about keeping exotic pets (from an ethological standpoint and biological perspective).

Legal Process for Keeping Wild Animals in the United Kingdom