On 6 April 2010, Defra's Code of Practice for the Welfare of Privately Kept Non-Human Primates (Primate Code) came into operation. The Primate Code was developed in response to MPs' and peers' concerns about the welfare of primates being kept as pets by those who lacked the ability to care for them properly. In 2015, the Code is scheduled for review.
Many of our witnesses argued that the keeping and trading of primates as pets should be banned completely. While we support the adoption of a ban in principle, this is a draconian step that must be based on solid evidence and only after attempts to improve the operation and implementation of the existing regulatory framework have been exhausted.
Current estimates of the numbers of primates kept and traded as pets in the UK are unreliable. A better understanding of the scale and scope of the problem is required to inform future action in this area, and we therefore recommend that Defra commission independent research on the number and type of primates being kept and traded as pets in the UK. To increase the reliability of the data, owners of primates should be required to register them six months before this research exercise begins.
The lack of reliable estimates reflects deficiencies in parts of the regulatory framework governing the welfare of pet primates and the way in which it is applied and enforced. While some elements of the regulatory framework, such as the Animal Welfare Act 2006 (AWA), are well-regarded, others are in need of attention.
The Primate Code is itself too general and ambiguous to be fully effective. The Government must use its forthcoming review to ensure that the Code is drafted in a clear and precise manner and to add more species-specific detail.
The Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976 (DWAA) cannot be considered to be an effective mechanism for protecting the welfare of pet primates, nor is this its primary purpose. Commonly kept primate species do not have to be licensed under the Act and its focus is on protecting people from animals, rather than the other way around.
Non-compliance with the regulatory framework is widespread. Low awareness of the applicable rules and guidance is one reason for this. Another is the limited resources and expertise held by local authorities who have primary responsibility for enforcing the framework. The Government should launch a public education campaign to raise awareness of the rules and guidance. It should also advise local authorities to employ experts from the zoo-licensing inspectors list or those with diplomas in zoo and wildlife medicine for its DWAA inspections.
If the changes we have suggested prove insufficient to protect adequately the welfare of privately kept primates, and if the evidence proves compelling, a ban on the trade and keeping of pet primates remains a possible option.