Exotic pets - Scottish Animal Welfare Commission: interim report

An interim report produced by the Scottish Animal Welfare Commission on exotic pets in Scotland.

7. Current legal and regulatory position in Scotland

The welfare of all protected animals, including all vertebrate exotic pets, is provided for under the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006. Abandonment of any protected animal is an offence under the 2006 Act.

The sale of animals as pets, including online sales where holding premises are within the UK, is currently covered by the Pet Animals Act 1951. The Act prohibits sales from unlicensed premises. In recent years the growth of internet sales, often from essentially domestic operations known as hobbyists or “back-room breeders”, has made enforcement difficult and complex.

The keeping of certain exotic animals, considered to be dangerous, is covered by the Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976 (DWA), which requires a licence for keeping certain specified animals – a system often referred to as a negative list. Local authority licence data are regularly analysed by the Born Free Foundation (Born Free Foundation, 2021), which stated in March 2021 that DWA licences had been issued for 3,951 animals in Great Britain in 2020. This included 255 animals in Scotland:

  • 8 venomous lizards including beaded lizards (Heloderma horridum) and Gila monsters (H. suspectum).
  • 8 venomous snakes including a taipan (Oxyuranus sp.), a mamba (Dendroaspis sp.), and a king cobra (Ophiophagus hannah)
  • 100 Scorpions
  • 54 cats including an Asian leopard cat (Prionailurus bengalensis), savannah cats (Felis catus X Leptailurus serval), and caracals (Caracal caracal)
  • 18 Ostriches (Struthio camelus)
  • 19 Bison (Bison sp.)
  • 8 crocodilians including American alligators (Alligator mississippiensis), spectacled caimans (Caiman crocodilus), and broad-snouted caimans (C. latirostris)
  • 19 Wild boar (Sus scrofa)
  • 5 Przewalski's wild horse (Equus przewalskii)
  • 16 primates including black-and-white ruffed lemurs (Varecia variegata) and ring-tailed lemurs (Lemur catta)

The transport of animals for commercial purposes, including pets, is covered by the Welfare of Animals Transport (Scotland) Regulations 2006, which implement EU requirements.

The Animal Welfare (Licensing of Activities Involving Animals) (Scotland) Regulations 2021, coming into force in September 2021, provide for the licensing of a range of activities involving animals. These include selling animals as pets (or with the expectation of their being later resold as pets) in the course of a business, including keeping animals in the course of a business with a view to their being sold or resold. Schedule 3 sets out conditions for selling animals as pets, and these are relevant to both exotic pets and internet sales, including a requirement for operators to maintain a register for all the animals on the premises (or groups of animals, such as fishes, where it is not practicable to keep individual records). The register must include the full name of the supplier as well as other details, such as the date the animal was born (or first acquired) and any past or current veterinary treatment. Any advertisement for the sale of an animal must, among other things, include the licence holder’s number, specify the local authority that issued the licence, and state the country of origin of the animal.

As already noted, abandonment or escapes of exotic species can potentially impact on native species. In this regard Scotland is bound by EU conservation legislation, including the recent Regulation on Invasive Species (Regulation (EU) No 1143/2014), which forbids the possession, transport, selling or breeding of species deemed of Union Concern. Following the UK exit from the EU, this provision is retained under the Invasive Non-Native Species (EU Exit) (Scotland) (Amendment etc.) Regulations 2020.

Schedule 4 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981 requires keepers to register listed birds, which are required to be uniquely marked with a closed leg ring or microchip. All keepers and registered birds are listed on a Bird Registration database.

The trade in exotic pets can also have implications for the conservation of exotic animals in their home territories and is subject to the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES), an international agreement between governments around the world that aims to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival.

Annex A to the CITES Regulations lists those species threatened with extinction and which are subject to the strictest control. Commercial trade is not permitted in wild-taken Annex A species, and imports, exports and re-exports are only permitted for ‘primarily non-commercial’ purposes. For commercial use in the UK, including buying or selling, offering for sale or displaying for commercial purposes, an Annex A specimen requires an Article 10 certificate.

Annex B lists those species not immediately threatened with extinction, but which may become so unless trade is regulated.

Annex C species are listed on request from individual CITES parties when assistance is required to control trade in a particular species.

All imports, exports and re-exports of Annex A, B and C specimens, including movements between Great Britain and the EU, and Great Britain and Northern Ireland, require full CITES import and export licences.


Email: SAWC.Secretariat@gov.scot

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