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Rules and Regulations on Keeping Exotic Pets

By: Dr Gareth Evans - Updated: 24 Sep 2015 | comments*Discuss
Rules And Regulations On Keeping Exotic Pets

Rules and regulations seem to be an inescapable part of modern life – they’re everywhere! When it comes to keeping pets – and especially exotic pets – there are some that you really need to know about. For the average pet keeper, although the various laws are unlikely to ever cause you any real concern, it’s always best to be aware of them; as the old saying goes, ignorance of the law is no defence!

Animal Welfare Act 2006

The Animal Welfare Act 2006, which came into full effect a year later, was the first review of pet law in 94 years – replacing the Protection of Animals Act, passed back in 1911 – and combined over 20 individual rules and laws into one single piece of legislation.

This has brought significant and far reaching changes to the rules regarding all animal keeping – and some of its provisions have major implications for exotic pet owners. One of the principal changes it brought in was the introduction of an offence of failing to care for the welfare of a pet.

Although this had long been the case for farm animals, the new regulations impose a legal responsibility on a pet owner to provide for their animal’s basic needs. The rules specifically state an animal needs a suitable place to live, a proper diet and the opportunity to behave naturally and the owner has a duty to keep it safe from pain, suffering and disease. The act also changed the minimum age for buying or winning a pet to 16 – though children younger than this can, of course, still legally own a pet.

The new rules certainly have some serious teeth to back them up; the most serious offences carry a maximum penalty of up to 51 weeks imprisonment or a fine of up to £20,000 – or both!

This act applies only in England and Wales, the Scottish Parliament having passed a similar legislation, the Animal Health and Welfare Act, 2006, while in Northern Ireland, the Welfare of Animals Act (Northern Ireland) 1972 is the principal set of legal rules governing animal care.

Dangerous Wild Animals Act

Originally brought in to curb the ownership of creatures which posed a real danger to the public, the Dangerous Wild Animals Act’s main contribution was to stop clueless lunatics keeping lions and tigers in one-bedroom flats, to the obvious relief of sane people everywhere.

Owners of animals which featured on the “dangerous” list could apply for a licence to keep their pets, but were expected to be able to demonstrate that they were competent to keep the creature in question and could provide it with a proper environment in which to live.

This situation has persisted since the act originally came into force in 1976. While some of the species originally on the list have been taken off, and others added, by and large the rules seem to be working pretty well, if the reduction in the numbers of crocodiles being kept in baths is anything to go by!

Fortunately, since no reputable dealer will sell you any creature to which this legislation applies unless you have a licence to keep it, you’re unlikely to fall foul of the rules.

Other Rules and Regulations

Depending on the type of animal you keep, other rules and regulations also apply. The Wildlife and Countryside Act, for example, gives protection to some of our native species which might once have been considered for keeping as exotic pets – and prohibits the release of exotic species into the wild. Some of the European endangered species which in the past were seen as potential pets are today afforded protection under the Berne Convention and other similar EU statutes. For questions about this kind of regulations - or the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) - DEFRA should definitely be your first call.

Away from the large national and international pieces of legislation, there can often be other more local rules on keeping exotic pets – particularly if you live in rented accommodation or a block of flats with a residents’ committee. Not everyone is particularly open-minded or welcoming when it comes to exotic pets – and sometimes no amount of diplomacy or protestations about how inoffensive your snake is, or harmless your scorpion, will win people over.

Although just about everything seems to have some law or regulation attached to it, for the most part, law abiding, responsible pet keepers aren’t likely to need to worry. Just keep to the rules and you’ll be fine.

So check your tenancy agreement before you buy that tarantula – there’s no point in both of you being homeless!

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