Laws on keeping dangerous animals at home are to be relaxed under new proposals to be put forward by the Government.
By Chris Irvine Last Updated: 7:05AM BST 06 May 2009
Owners of big cats, crocodiles and dangerous snakes could soon only need to get a licence every two years and have their premises inspected less often under proposals that would change the Dangerous Wild Animals Act, 1976.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) say they want to reduce the "burden" of red tape on private animal keepers, arguing that the Act is "considered by many to be overly burdensome". A recent survey of 87 local authorities recorded 267 dangerous snakes, 36 camels, 36 scorpions, 30 crocodilians (including caimans and alligators), 23 big cats and one zebra kept in homes across Britain. Some of the more surprising "pets" included a snow leopard in East Cambridgeshire and a cheetah kept in a 20m x 50m enclosure at a disused farm in Macclesfield in Cheshire.
The Dangerous Wild Animals act was brought in because of a fashion in the 1970s for keeping exotic pets. One of the problems is the cost of the local authority licenses, which Defra says cost from £30 to nearly £700, something they feel may be deterring people from applying for a licence.
The RSPCA has condemned the proposals, pointing out that Defra proposed to make the act "more robust" only five years ago.
It added that the Act has already been relaxed, when 18 months ago, a number of exotic species, including emus, sloths and squirrel monkeys, were removed from the list for which a licences is required.
They argue that an extension on license from one to two years as well as making inspections on renewal non-mandatory, could lead to welfare problems.
Ros Clubb, scientific officer in the RSPCA's Wildlife Department, said: "We don't think the legislative framework is strong enough anyway and we're really not happy with any kind of weakening of it.
"It wasn't exactly great protection for them in the first place, and weakening it even further will have a detrimental effect on the welfare of these animals.
"With a lot of dangerous wild animals, people don't know how to look after them properly - you get into the realm of specialist keepers. Our concern is that people don't fully understand that."
Mark Amey, 47, a pet shop owner who has 27 venomous snakes, more than 30 scorpions and a 5ft-long African crocodile, said: "Sure, financially, it's great. I'm a licence holder; I'll be pounds up. But extending a licence from one year to two years isn't good from an animal welfare point of view. Some people who keep wild animals aren't qualified and just don't do it properly."
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