Home > Keeping Reptiles > Reptile Keeping and the Law FAQs

Reptile Keeping and the Law FAQs

By: Dr Gareth Evans - Updated: 22 Feb 2021 | comments*Discuss
Dangerous Wild Animals Act Animal

Like just about everything else in life, there are laws to be obeyed when it comes to keeping pets – and pet reptiles are no exception. Fortunately, however, keeping on the right side of the boys in blue isn’t too hard, but as always, it pays to be sure, so if you are thinking of keeping anything new, it’s worth checking if you have any doubts.

These FAQs are based on the general situation under UK law – bear in mind that this won’t necessarily be true in other jurisdictions and there can be some variance in the way individual local authorities choose to interpret legislation.

Do I Need Anyone’s Permission to Keep a Reptile?

The short answer is “maybe.” It all depends on where you live, with whom and what kind of animal you’re wanting to keep. Assuming you’re an adult, living in your own home, or a place where pets aren’t banned, and the reptile you’re after isn’t endangered, dangerous or legally prohibited, then you don’t need anyone’s specific permission, nor any kind of licence. Otherwise, tenants need to check with their landlords, children with their parents and anyone not living alone would obviously be well advised to talk it over with their partner or flatmates!

What About The Neighbours?

You aren’t obliged to tell anyone that you’re keeping anything unusual as a pet – and provided you don’t think that your snake or lizard is likely to make a bid for freedom and terrorise the nice lady next door, or the bloke in the upstairs flat, then “don’t ask, don’t tell” is probably a safe policy.

Do keep in mind, however, all the normal rules about neighbourliness and a duty of care apply – pet ASBOs don’t only apply to barking dogs!

How Old Do You Have to be to Own a Reptile?

There’s no minimum – or maximum, come to that – age to own a reptile. You must be 16, however, to buy any kind of pet.

I Think Crocodiles / Spitting Cobras Are Really Cool – Can I Keep One?

No – well, at least, not easily. If you’re really determined to start your own zoo, you can apply to your local authority for a licence under the Dangerous Wild Animals Act (1976) – but you’ll need to satisfy a whole series of conditions before you’ll get to bring your crocodile or cobra home.

OK – So What’s The Dangerous Wild Animals Act All About?

The clue’s in the name – put simply, it’s an attempt to ensure public safety by keeping a whole range of potentially very dangerous animals out of the hands of people who don’t know how to look after them properly, while allowing those who do, to keep them lawfully. It was passed back in 1976 and has been modified a bit since them, with some animals being added to the list, while others have been removed. Like most law, it’s not perfect, but for the most part it seems to have been a very successful piece of legislation.

Getting a licence to keep a “dangerous” species involves an application to your local authority with a fee of around £120, an inspection of your premises to ensure they’re adequate and extensive checks to ensure you’re competent. Once you’ve passed all this and convinced the inspector that letting you keep your crocodile won’t endanger the lives of the rest of your town’s population, you should get your licence – but with so many wonderful reptiles to choose from that aren’t on the list, you do have to ask why bother?

Do I Need to Insure My Reptile?

No – not by law, though depending on what you keep, you might want to consider insuring against vet bills, which can be high for exotic animals, or third party damage. Your corn snake may not do anyone any bodily harm, but if you have to pull half your upstairs neighbours floors up to recapture it if it escapes, it could be costly. An escaped Boa recently landed its German owner with a repair bill of thousands of Euros in exactly this way – so be warned!

Do I Need to Worry About the Animal Welfare Act?

If you’re the sort of typical caring reptile keeper who usually reads this site, then you probably don’t need to worry, but the Animal Welfare Act (2006) certainly applies. It sets down basic standards for animal care, including a specific duty to care for your pet’s welfare, provide it with adequate accommodation, food and conditions and ensure that it doesn’t suffer from pain or disease – the sort of thing all good reptile owners have always done as a matter of course. This particular act applies in England and Wales; similar legislation has been enacted in Scotland and Northern Ireland too.

What Other Laws Apply?

Many species of reptiles are also covered under various European and international laws, such as the Berne Convention and CITES regulations which are designed to protect endangered animals and prohibit trade in wild-caught specimens. While any aspiring reptile-keeper needs to be aware of them in principle, provided you buy your animals from reputable dealers, you have no real need to know too much of the detail.

Someone once said that the law is a tricky as a ten-foot snake, but strangely enough, when it comes to keeping snakes, it really isn’t that hard to stay legal!

You might also like...
Share Your Story, Join the Discussion or Seek Advice..
[Add a Comment]
Just found out my tenant has at least 10 snakes in my upper floor apartment - I am checking on the lease, but is it legal to own that many snakes in a small apartment?
SON - 22-Feb-21 @ 5:02 PM
Can someone point me I. The right direction to how I can become an official Registered snake breeder
Angelo84 - 21-Jul-20 @ 5:52 PM
I really need to know if you need a licence to keep false water cobras in Europe more specifically Vienna.
Cober - 16-Jun-20 @ 6:35 PM
I can't believe how many snakes are being abandoned in this country.Are there no regulators for breeding and sales.in the last two weeks alone my daughter(26) has found two ball pythons dumped in a bag in a carpark and a friend found a boa constrictor in a park dumped.we tried to get them picked up by the RSPCA and other snake rescue people to be told they are full and to leave them where we found them if we didn't want them.im disgusted.we have taken them in costing us a lot of money.we now have five snakes and two gecko's 5 of which are rescued.alsi word git out and we have had several people trying to get us to have more rescue animals.roim and funds prevent this.its scandalous
Paula - 18-May-20 @ 8:17 AM
I just saw a beggar in my public high street with 3 boxes of exotic reptiles and a 10ft python around his neck attracting attention for money. Is this A) legal? B) safe? C) not cruel to the snakes?
Richard - 22-Sep-19 @ 1:12 PM
Is it legal to own western hognose snakes in the uk
Nickname - 14-Sep-19 @ 3:17 AM
Im not to sure about false water cobra laws i live in Connecticut
Chace - 2-Jul-19 @ 6:46 AM
I own 1 ball python and 1 Californian King Snake, I live in South Africa. I don’t know if I should bring my snakes over when I move because I’m scared they wont get used to the cold. Is it ok if I bring them over?
Thomas - 31-Mar-19 @ 8:00 PM
Do I need a permit to breed lizards in the UK
Woody - 16-Mar-19 @ 6:48 PM
Can i legally get a blunt headed snake as a pet in the UK?
Tibbit - 24-Jul-18 @ 2:46 PM
I was told you don't need a license for a false water cobra is this true ?
Viper - 12-Sep-17 @ 7:31 PM
Do I need a reptile license to keep a ball pithon - royal python?
Jagoda24 - 23-Jun-17 @ 10:52 PM
Clamb - Your Question:
Do you need a license to keep a green anaconda in the uk

Our Response:
You can see the full list of animals you need a licence for via the gov.uk site here.
ReptileExpert - 22-Aug-16 @ 10:42 AM
Do you need a license to keep a green anaconda in the uk
Clamb - 21-Aug-16 @ 8:07 AM
Share Your Story, Join the Discussion or Seek Advice...
(never shown)
(never shown)
(never shown)
(never shown)
Enter word:
Latest Comments
  • SON
    Re: Reptile Keeping and the Law FAQs
    Just found out my tenant has at least 10 snakes in my upper floor apartment - I am checking on the lease, but is it legal to…
    22 February 2021
  • Reptile mo.
    Re: What to do if Your Reptile Escapes
    My bearded has escaped and it's been 24 hrs I've looked everywhere. He's no where to be found what shouldni do
    23 November 2020
  • arc
    Re: What to do if Your Reptile Escapes
    our baby green anole escaped in our apartment and we can't find him and he blends into the carpet
    17 November 2020
    Re: Keeping Tortoises as Pets
    My daughter in law has recently homed a tortoise from a local rescue centre, the tortoise is doing very well and seems to be happy and…
    12 November 2020
  • Benny
    Re: Keeping Caimans
    Hi, i'm studying a L3 Animal Management Course and am working on my Exotic animals assignment. I'm looking at caimans and why people have them as…
    6 November 2020
  • Andy
    Re: Keeping Caimans
    I am finding it hard to find insurance companies that will insure me for my licence that I need to own one I stay in the UK can anyone out there…
    12 September 2020
  • Shane
    Re: Keeping Bearded Dragons as Pets
    I have a new dragon 4 years old coming today I already have a 4 year old dragon both boys and I let the meet the first time…
    28 August 2020
  • Tan ver
    Re: 10 Common Myths about Turtles and Tortoises
    I grew up my turtle from. Baby since last 2 yrs nd. Day ago I couldn't find him. EverDay I used to take him…
    25 August 2020
  • Deb
    Re: Should I Leave the Heat Bulb on Overnight?
    We have a baby comillion in a screen enclosure. What should the temperature be.
    22 August 2020
  • Reidy
    Re: What to do if Your Reptile Escapes
    My juvenile black and white tegu escaped his enclosure and got outside I've checked absolutely everywhere even pulled up…
    19 August 2020