Now you need a licence for a lion
By Linda McKee
04 December 2006
New laws governing dangerous wild animals kept in captivity come into force today.
Owners of such animals will now have to apply for a licence and pay a licence fee of £80, quelling the underground trade that has being growing in Northern Ireland.
Environment Minister David Cairns has granted a 90-day amnesty period, allowing owners to apply for the licence - or hand in the animal to the DOE.
The USPCA has welcomed the long-awaited legislation, pointing out the absurdity of an unregulated system that allowed private individuals to keep anything from lions to diamond-backed rattlesnakes.
Spokesman David Wilson said: "We've been waiting for this for a considerable period of time and we welcome its arrival.
"In Northern Ireland, you had to pay a fiver for the privilege of keeping a poodle, but you could keep a panther for nothing."
Mr Wilson said the USPCA's concerns go beyond the risk to public safety.
"We are concerned about animal welfare. We feel a lot of people are not keeping the animals in the right conditions and that they don't have the right knowledge to care for them and the animals are suffering as a result," he said.
From now on, it will be an offence to have a dangerous wild animal without a licence - attracting a fine of up to £5,000. Selling such an animal to anyone without a licence will also be an offence.
• Recent years have seen an upsurge in the numbers of people keeping dangerous reptiles such as reptiles and crocodiles.
Earlier this year, a South American Tamarin monkey was seized from a house in Craigavon.
And in February this year, the USPCA and police intercepted a consignment of young Cayman crocodiles in Newry. The haul also included a boa constrictor and python snakes, tarantula spiders, lizards and water dragons.
A deadly cobra snake was discovered in a follow-up search of a house. Police had no powers to seize it because of the absence of dangerous wild animal legislation.
In another high-profile case in 2002, two wolves were caught running wild in Bangor.
The most infamous case was in 1997, when six tigers, a lion and a leopard were removed from a householder in Seskinore, Co Tyrone.