Dangerous wild animals: species guidance

Individual species guidance on the keeping of dangerous wild animals.

Venemous snakes and lizards

Species names


  • family atractaspididae: all species of the genera atractaspis (burrowing asps (also known as mole vipers, or burrowing vipers). Stiletto snakes
  • family colubridae: all species of the genera malpolon and thelatornis (all rear-fanged venomous snakes of the specified genera, including Montpellier snakes, the false cobra and twig or bird snakes)
  • family colubridae: dispholidus typus, rhabdophis subminiatus, rhabdophis tigrinus, elapomorhus lemniscatus, philodryas olfersii, tachymenis peruviana, xonodon severus (the boomslang, the red-necked keelback, the tiger keelback (also known as the yamakagashi or the Japanese tiger-snake), the Argentine black-headed snake, the South American green racer, the Peruvian racer, the Amazon false viper)
  • family elapidae: all species (front-fanged venomous snakes, including cobras, coral snakes, kraits, mambas, whipsnakes, death adders and all other Australian poisonous snakes)
  • family viperidae: all species (front-fanged venomous snakes (including adders, the barba amarilla, the bushmaster, the fer-de-lance, moccasins, rattlesnakes and vipers)


  • family helodermatidae: all species (gila monsters and the Mexican beaded lizard)

Housing overview

Snakes must be housed in locked tanks (vivaria) kept inside a locked room. The room housing the reptiles must be “snake proof”, to prevent accidental escape.  

Venomous lizards may be kept in vivaria or fine mesh wire cages with a solid floor.

People have previously kept venomous snakes in stackable plastic boxes. This is not appropriate as long-term accommodation and is not recommended.

Keeping experience

In order to protect the welfare of the reptiles, keepers must be able to demonstrate a good knowledge of husbandry and safe handling of the species they wish to keep. Visitors must not be allowed to handle the reptiles.

There should be a second named person on the licence who is competent to care for the animals should the owner be absent or incapacitated.

Housing recommendations


Reptiles and snakes particularly, have the ability to squeeze through very small gaps; therefore vivaria must be solidly constructed, with lockable lids, and covered ventilation holes. It is recommend that the door to the reptile room has a viewing window, through which the keeper can see all the vivaria before entering the room. 


The minimum recommended space depends on the animal’s size, and the type of animal must be taken into consideration. Some snakes are arboreal (live in trees) therefore vertical height is of importance.  Other snakes are terrestrial (live on land) and floor space is important. 

In addition to the space required by the animals themselves, there must also be sufficient room for the keeper to safely reach into the tank with snake tongs to remove the animals. 

Snakes and heloderm lizards tend not to be very active, as long as there is enough space for them to move, reach food, get warm and cool down, then the space is adequate.

Approximate minimum guidelines are as follows: 

Snake length Tank size
Up to 1 metre 40 litres
1 to 2 metres 80 litres
2 to 3 metres 120 litres
Over 3 metres 200 litres

Gila monster and beaded lizard - minimum enclosure size is 0.9 x 0.9m with a height of at least 0.4m.


Tropical species should be kept at temperatures between 20ºC to 35ºC. The keeper should ensure that the correct temperature is maintained for the species kept. A heat source should be provided at one end of the vivarium, creating a temperature gradient. The heat source should be insulated so that neither the reptile nor the keeper is at risk of burns. 

Any electrical appliances used, such as heaters, should be checked regularly to reduce the risk of fire caused by faulty equipment.


Reptiles require full spectrum lighting during daylight hours. This should be provided by a full spectrum light bulb, or a UV light appropriate for reptiles.


Ambient humidity of reptile enclosures is important to the animal’s health. A humidity level between 50 to 75% for tropical snakes is recommended. The humidity requirements for desert species may be lower, and should be appropriate for the species kept. There should be means to measure and adjust humidity if necessary. 

If ventilation is required, an appropriate system should be installed and covered with mesh to prevent escape.


The substrate used in the vivaria should allow spilled water to drain away from the reptile, and must be replaced regularly, so as not to become sodden or fouled with faeces. Any faecal material must be disposed of in an environmentally sound manner.


Faeces and food debris should be removed promptly. Vivaria, water bowls, and other furniture should be disinfected regularly.

Social dynamics and behavioural considerations

While it is possible to keep different species of snake together, it is not recommended. In the wild, snakes of the same species spend most of their life on their own. 

Keeping venomous snakes in the same vivarium increases the risk to the keeper during handling, feeding, and whilst cleaning the vivarium.  

It is acceptable to keep different species in individual enclosures in the same room.

Prevention of escape

Reptile rooms should have no open fireplace and no gaps in the walls. Any ventilation ducts must be securely covered with a fine mesh to prevent animals escaping. Any windows should be sealed shut.  

In order to prevent escape from the room, it is recommended that a viewing window be installed into the door, through which the keeper can observe the room before entering. A 30cm high lip at the bottom of the door (which the keeper must step over) will help to prevent an animal escaping from the room as the door is opened.

The door to the room must be closed before animals are handled.

Vivaria housing snakes should have solid sides, floor and top, with no gaps and covered air holes. All vivaria should be locked unless access is necessary.

Food, drink and bedding

Snakes and lizards should be fed whole dead rodents of appropriate size for the reptile concerned. The feeding of live vertebrate prey is prohibited. Tongs or grabbers should be used to place the food in the vivarium. Food should never be placed by hand.

Humidity is very important for tropical reptiles, and there must be fresh water available at all times.

Vivaria should have a substrate that is easily replaced, and that the reptiles will not swallow or eat inadvertently.

Visiting interval

The animals must be monitored at appropriate intervals, normally at least once every 24 hours.

Exercise and enrichment

The provision of enrichment is desirable. This could include something to climb, a water dish large enough to bathe in and a lockable, and removable ‘hide box’ which provides shelter for the reptiles, and allows safe containment while cleaning the vivarium. 

A stone or branch is recommended for reptiles to rub against while shedding their skin.

Heloderm lizards may enjoy digging and can be provided with a suitable substrate for this if space allows.

Protective equipment

Snake tongs or a snake hook, leather gloves, and goggles or a solid visor, may be necessary for handling venomous reptiles.

Provision for moving the animal(s)

Some contingency for safely moving animals should be in place in case veterinary attention is required, or in the event of an emergency. A solid lockable box, such as the hide box is recommended as a method of transport, although a plastic box with a lockable, snap-on lid may also be used. A licence, issued by the local authority, for the keeping of these animals may specify restrictions on the movement of these animals and procedures to be followed.

Emergency planning

There should be a written contingency plan in place to be used in the event of an emergency, for example fire, flood, animal escape or injury to the keeper. 

The greatest danger from venomous reptiles is posed to the keepers themselves. The contingency plan should include the details of who to contact at a local hospital in case of being bitten, and what the procedure is to deal with venomous bites, and this should be clearly displayed inside the room.

Notification requirements

The licence may also specify procedures to be followed in the event of an escape and on the provision of information to the emergency services.

You are required to notify the local authority of any intentions to breed the animals.

When a licence is issued to keep venomous species, it may be required that keepers notify the local hospital in writing of which species are being kept, to allow the medical staff to research appropriate anti-venoms.

Prevention and control of spread of infectious disease

The keeper should provide details of their veterinary arrangements with a practice prepared to treat the species kept. A schedule of veterinary care, including routine parasite control is essential.  

Arrangements should be in place for the emergency humane euthanasia and safe disposal of the species held. The venom of these species may still be harmful even after the animal is dead.

There are no transmissible diseases that pose a major threat to the public, provided there is no direct contact with the snakes or their by-products. Keepers should be aware of the risk of salmonellosis from handling snakes or lizards, which they in turn could pass on to family members if good hygiene is not observed. Thorough hand washing following the handling or cleaning out of any reptile is recommended.





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