Reptile Keeping and the Law FAQs

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!

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