Zoos in Scotland: guidance

Guidance on operating a zoo in Scotland.


Any zoo in Scotland displaying wild animals that are not normally domesticated in Great Britain is subject to licensing and inspection under the Zoo Licensing Act 1981 and the Zoo Licensing Act as amended by the 2003 (Scotland) Regulations.

A zoo is defined under the Zoo Licensing Act (ZLA) as being 'an establishment where wild animals are kept for exhibition ... to which members of the public have access, with or without charge for admission, seven or more days in any period of twelve consecutive months'.

The wide scope of this definition means that licensed zoos range from traditional urban zoos and safari parks to small specialist collections such as butterfly houses and aquaria. The ZLA recognises this wide range of establishments by allowing dispensations to be granted for small zoos and those exhibiting only species of animals which are neither hazardous nor conservation sensitive.

Dispensations for these types of collection reduce the number of inspectors to a reasonable level for a small establishment, and do not in any way weaken a zoo's obligation to achieve high levels of animal welfare and modern public safety.

The ZLA does not extend to circuses, or to pet shops, both of which are covered by other legislation.

Responsibility for Scottish zoos is devolved to the Scottish Government (SG) and the SG animal welfare team has responsibility for the overarching policy on zoo animal welfare. Zoo licencing is undertaken by Scottish Local Authorities (LA), who are supported in arranging inspections by the Animal & Plant Health Agency (APHA). Your LA or APHA should be contacted regarding any practical queries regarding zoo licensing in Scotland. 

Zoo operators

Information and guidance on zoo licensing under the Zoo Licensing Act 1981 and the Zoo Licensing Act 1981 Amendment (Scotland) Regulations 2003 are available from your local authority which is responsible for administering the Act.

Under the Zoo Licensing Act 1981 Amendment (Scotland) Regulations 2003, zoo operators are obliged to implement the conservation and education measures detailed in section 1A of the Zoo Licensing Act 1981 Amendment (Scotland) Regulations 2003.

The Standards of Modern Zoo Practice specifies the minimum standards that zoos in England, Scotland and Wales are expected to meet.

The Zoos Expert Committee Handbook supplements the Standards of Modern Zoo Practice and provides guidance with recommendations and examples to aid zoos, zoo inspectors, local authorities and others having an interest in zoos.

Local authorities

Local authorities are responsible for the inspection and licensing of zoos and their obligations are detailed under the Zoo Licensing Act 1981 and the Zoo Licensing Act 1981 Amendment (Scotland) Regulations 2003 (ZLA).

Additional guidance on zoo-related matters can be found in the Standards of Modern Zoo Practice and the Zoos Expert Committee Handbook.

Please note that none of the guidance documents listed on these pages should be taken as an authoritative statement of the legal effect of the Act and that the source legislation should also be consulted.

For guidance on all zoo-related CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) matters, please see the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) website.

Zoo licensing and inspections

The Scottish Government (SG) maintains a list of Scottish Ministers' Zoo Inspectors who carry out periodical inspections on a regular basis and may also carry out special inspections if required.

When arranging inspections Local Authorities (LA) must consult Animal & Plant Health Agency (APHA), who will assign the appropriate Scottish Ministers' Zoo Inspector(s) to the inspection team. Please note, it should not be assumed that the Scottish Ministers' nominees from the previous inspection remain the same for any subsequent inspection.

If you need to arrange for Scottish Ministers' Zoo Inspector(s) to carry out a:

  • licence inspection
  • interim periodical inspection
  • licence renewal periodical inspection
  • (14)(1)(b) 'Reduced Inspections' dispensation licence renewal inspection
  • special inspection

of a zoo, contact the APHA.

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