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:
- Annex IV (a) species of the EC Habitats Directive.
- Dangerous wild animals (e.g. marsupials, primates, wild boar, wild cats or dogs, wolves).
- Destructive imported animals (e.g. American mink, coypu, grey squirrel, muskrat, non-indigenous rabbits).
- European Protected Species according to the Conservation of Offshore Marine Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 (e.g. Grey wolf, Eurasian beaver, Eurasian Lynx).
- Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act (WCA) 1981.
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
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
- Managing wild animals on your land.
- How to get rid of wild mink?
- Pest control legislation in the United Kingdom.
Note: This short video [3:49 seconds] contains more information about keeping exotic pets (from an ethological standpoint and biological perspective).