Primates as Pets - Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee Contents

4  The regulatory framework

26. A framework of domestic and international rules, regulations and guidance applies to different aspects of keeping and trading pet primates in the UK. Of chief relevance to our inquiry are the Animal Welfare Act 2006 (AWA) and the accompanying Primate Code, the Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1974 (DWAA), the Pet Animals Act 1951 and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

The Animal Welfare Act 2006

27. The Animal Welfare Act, which received Royal Assent on 8 November 2006, was designed to reduce animal suffering by consolidating and updating more than 20 pieces of animal welfare legislation relating to farmed and non-farmed animals. Sections 4 and 9 of the AWA make it an offence, respectively, for a person to cause unnecessary suffering to an animal, and for a person responsible for an animal to fail to take reasonable steps to ensure that the animal's needs are met. For the purposes of the AWA, an animal's needs are taken to include:

·  a suitable environment (how it is housed);

·  a suitable diet (what it eats and drinks);

·  the ability to exhibit normal behaviour patterns;

·  any need it has to be housed with, or apart from, other animals, and

·  protection from pain, suffering, injury and disease.[51]

28. Under the AWA, the maximum penalty for causing unnecessary suffering to an animal is six months imprisonment or a fine of £20,000 or both. The maximum penalty for failing to provide for the welfare needs of an animal is six months imprisonment or a fine of £5,000 or both.[52]

29. The Government appears confident that the AWA provides adequate protection for the welfare of privately kept primates. Defra has said that "If keeping a primate as a pet means keeping it in the domestic setting, whether in a cage or running free, then this would be likely to be in breach of section 9 of the Animal Welfare Act 2006 (the need to provide an animal with its welfare needs)".[53]

30. On 5 February, the Minister told us that "keeping primates in a domestic setting in isolation, outside a social group and on inappropriate diets is already against the law. It is against the Animal Welfare Act".[54] The Minister described the AWA as "an extremely effective piece of legislation" and added shortly after, "I am confident the legislation is adequate to deal with animal welfare ... The legislation does not need changing; it is a question of how to interpret it, and that is what the [primate] code helps with".[55]

31. The Reptile and Exotic Pet Trade Association (REPTA) agreed that the AWA provided adequate protection for primates. In written evidence it said, "It is clear that there is already sufficient legislation under the Animal Welfare Act that prevents the inappropriate keeping of primates as pets and that current legislation is adequate and effective".[56] The Pet Industry Federation thought that the "Primate Code of Practice, the Animal Welfare Act and Dangerous Wild Animal[s] Act combined are more than sufficient to assure the welfare of animals".[57]

32. In written evidence, the RSPCA acknowledged that

    The "duty of care" introduced by the AWA has no doubt helped protect animal welfare but one must first know where the animal is kept before positive action can be taken; a difficult task when the majority are privately kept behind closed doors.[58]

33. The Animal Welfare Act was welcomed by a cross section of organisations when it passed into law in 2006 and it remains popular today. We received little evidence to suggest that the Act itself needs further amendment. Where concerns were raised, they tended to focus on matters of interpretation and enforcement which we address in separate sections of this report.

The Primate Code

34. The Primate Code, made under section 14 of the AWA, is a guide to the steps that a primate keeper must take to meet the needs of the animal referred to in AWA section 9. Breaching a Code provision is not, in itself, an offence but a court can take into account the extent to which a person has complied with the Code in determining whether or not that person has committed an offence.[59] Many witnesses expressed concerns about the Code.


35. One concern, frequently raised, was that the Code was too general and ambiguous to be useful. It could be interpreted in too many different ways, which undermined its effectiveness and prevented it from achieving its objectives. In Lisa Riley's view

    The code of practice is completely ineffective. It takes an expert to try to decipher it. For the layperson out there, who has just purchased a primate off the internet, getting ... generalised information that is not relevant to a particular species is not helpful.[60]

36. Hannah Buchanan-Smith, an expert in primate behaviour and welfare, said:

    The Code of Practice is too general-each species of primate has specific needs, and combined with lack of regulation and inspection the Code does not provide an acceptable mechanism for ensuring adequate welfare standards. Owners need very specialist knowledge and training.[61]

37. Elizabeth Tyson, a doctoral researcher at the University of Essex School of Law, pointed out that "The purposes of the codes [made under section 14 of the AWA] is to give meaning and clarity to the legislation".[62] She considered it "vital that codes of practice are easily interpreted in line with the legal demands to which they relate … and that they are as prescriptive and unambiguous as possible".[63] She goes on to say that "The obvious result of attempting to create all-encompassing guidance to cover all the welfare needs of all primate species is ambiguity".[64]

38. The RSPCA explained that, while "the requirements outlined in the Primate Code are necessar[il]y very general ... the intention was to add more … detail in [attachments containing species-specific information]. This never happened, leaving most provisions open to interpretation and requiring further research".[65] When we asked Lisa Riley how the Code could be improved, she said that "As a standalone document, as it is, it needs to be fragmented and made into species-specific guidance if it is going to remain in place".[66]

39. If the Primate Code is to be effective, then it must contain information that is both detailed and specific enough to enable private keepers to meet the welfare needs of their animals. Equally, the Code must be drafted with sufficient clarity to allow someone who has never owned a primate of a particular species to gain a reasonable understanding of how to comply with the law, and to allow a court to determine whether or not the Code has been complied with.

40. We recommend that the Government take the opportunity presented by its forthcoming review of the Primate Code to ensure that the Code is drafted in a clear and precise manner that makes it easy to enforce and comply with. We also recommend that species-specific appendices are added to the Primate Code. The Government should begin its review with immediate effect.


41. In evidence to the Committee, Monkey World, a primate rescue centre, emphasised the need for a more comprehensive, logical and joined-up approach to the regulation of primates in captivity. This might be termed a "primate-centred" approach since it is designed to ensure that a particular primate would enjoy an equivalent level of care, irrespective of whether it was being held in a zoo, circus, private home or pet shop.[67] Alison Cronin, Director of Monkey World, said that:

    The highest duty of care is [contained] in the Zoo Licensing Act. If a capuchin monkey in a zoo or wildlife park is deserving of a certain standard of care and has a right to that standard of care, that applies behind the net curtains as well. The monkey remains the same; it does not change; its needs are still the same.[68]

42. Similar views have been expressed by other primate sanctuaries and animal welfare organisations. If the highest standards are to be found in the regulatory regime for zoos, and the Secretary of State's Standards of Modern Zoo Practice (the Zoo Standards) in particular,[69] there is a case for raising the standards in the Primate Code to a level that is similar or equivalent to those contained in the Zoo Standards.

43. Adopting a "primate-centred" approach also involves looking across the entire journey that a privately kept primate makes—from birth, through to sale and transportation to its life in captivity and eventual demise—to ensure that its welfare is adequately protected at all times in its life. Looking at the Code from this perspective, there appears to be significant scope for improvement. Alison Cronin perceived gaps in the Code:

    It does not cover the full trade, from beginning to end. It does not cover breeders and what they do, what age they can remove animals from the mother's care in order to pass that animal onto another individual. It does not cover how you transport those animals across the country when somebody buys it off the internet. It does not even cover who is considered a breeder from their private home.[70]

44. While the specific details involved in adequately caring for a primate vary according to setting, there is a strong case for ensuring that primates being held in any setting enjoy a similar standard of care. It is also important to ensure that adequate protection is afforded to privately kept and traded primates at all stages in their lives.

45. We recommend that the Government adopt a "primate-centred" approach when it reviews the Primate Code. This should include raising the standards in the Code to a level equivalent to zoo standards and ensuring that the Code adequately covers all stages in the life of a privately kept primate, including breeding and transportation.

Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976

46. The Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976 (DWAA) was introduced following a fashion in the 1970s for keeping exotic animals, especially big cats, as pets. It received Royal Assent on 22 July 1976 and came into force on 22 October 1976. The aim of the Act is to ensure that, where private individuals keep dangerous wild animals, they do so without creating a risk to the public and, to a lesser extent, to protect the welfare of the animals.

47. Animals listed in a Schedule to the DWAA are subject to a licensing regime administered and enforced by local authorities. A licence must not be granted by a local authority unless it is satisfied that it would not be contrary to the public interest on grounds of safety or nuisance to do so, that the applicant is a suitable person, and that the animal's accommodation is adequate and secure.[71]

48. The RSPCA explained that "although most primate species are listed [in the DWAA Schedule], those we believe to be most commonly kept as pets, such as marmosets, squirrel monkeys and tamarins are not".[72] Some of these species were originally included in the DWAA Schedule but subsequently de-listed in October 2007.[73]

49. The result, according to witnesses such as Elizabeth Tyson, is that the DWAA "cannot be considered to be an effective legal mechanism for the protection of the welfare of privately kept primates in the UK".[74] Wetheriggs Animal Rescue and Conservation Centre observed that

    the major problems seem to be with those primates that do not fall under the [DWAA] … if these species were regulated in the same way that the "dangerous primates" are … then most of the nightmare would be done away with.[75]

50. Defra challenged this idea on the basis that

    the 1976 Act is principally about protecting people from animals rather than providing additional welfare protection to animals ... legal advice has confirmed that, if species were listed for reasons other than their dangerousness, then there would be a high risk of legal challenge being successful.[76]

51. Some witnesses, such as Douglas Richardson, Animal Manager at the Highland Wildlife Park, suggested that "from a disease perspective specifically, it would be prudent to include all primates under the [DWAA]".[77] However, even assuming such arguments were accepted by Defra, other drawbacks with the DWAA would remain.

52. According to the RSPCA, "The inadequacies of the DWAA are many, most notably extremely high levels of noncompliance ... There is also a lack of understanding within local authorities about their responsibilities under the DWAA and the needs of primates".[78] We discuss these matters further in the next Chapter.

53. In light of the evidence we received, we considered the merits of recommending the establishment of a new licensing system, covering all primate species, under the auspices of section 13 of the Animal Welfare Act 2006. While this remains a possibility, such a course of action would be difficult to justify in the absence of more reliable information about the scale and scope of the problem being addressed. We are also mindful of the need to avoid the mistakes of the past. As the Minister said, "we used to have a system for licensing dogs in this country which was abandoned because it was expensive to administer and many dog owners simply ignored it".[79] The dog licence was abolished in 1987 at which point it cost just 37p and was held by just 50% of dog owners.[80]

54. The Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976 cannot be considered to be an effective mechanism for protecting the welfare of pet primates. Commonly kept primate species do not have to be licensed under the Act and the focus of the Act is on protecting people from animals rather than the other way around. If the results of the research exercise we recommend in Chapter 3 suggest that a more comprehensive licensing system for pet primates is justified, this could be achieved under the auspices of the DWAA or the Animal Welfare Act. However, the problems associated with pet licensing schemes in the past suggest that this should not be regarded as a panacea.

Pet Animals Act 1951

55. The Pet Animals Act, which came into force on 1 April 1952, protects the welfare of animals sold as pets. It requires anyone keeping a pet shop to be licensed by their local authority.[81] Before granting a licence, a local authority must be satisfied that, among other things, the animals are: kept in suitable and clean accommodation; supplied with appropriate food and drink, and adequately protected from disease and fire.[82]

56. A local authority can issue a licence with conditions, such as limiting the species of animals that the pet shop may sell, and has powers to investigate allegations of cruelty or poor welfare in a pet shop. Anyone who keeps a pet shop without a valid licence, or who breaches their licence conditions, is committing an offence. The maximum penalty for such an offence is three months imprisonment or a fine of £500, or both.[83]

57. Evidence suggests that the Act is ill-equipped to deal with the problems of the internet age. OneKind, an animal protection charity, described how

    Animals, including primates, can be ordered from internet classified advertising sites and, in theory at least, delivered within a day or two to distant locations without any monitoring, regulation or specific welfare provision. The Pet Animals Act 1951 dates from before the birth of the internet, or indeed its inventor, and cannot regulate this trade.[84]

58. The result is ambiguity and confusion among those who have to comply with or enforce the Act, and gaps in the regulatory framework. Lisa Riley told us that some local authorities "have expressed confusion as to whether online pet shops require a licence because they do not sell from a physical premises".[85] Meanwhile, she says, there is substantial evidence of private online sales, which are exempt from licensing.[86]

59. Ambiguity and confusion are not helped by a lack of guidance, a further problem identified in evidence. Monkey World and Animal Defenders International, an international campaigning group, pointed to the lack of clarity in guidance or legislation about how many primates a person could sell from their home before they were treated as a commercial operator and subject to the same licensing standards as a pet shop.[87] The Animal Protection Agency, said that:

    Even where sellers are licensed under the Pet Animals Act 1951, no specific and formal guidance is provided for primates and, furthermore, there is no mention of primates in the Model Conditions for Pet Vending Licensing 2013 (minimum standards for pet shops published by the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health).[88]

60. Monkey World drew our attention to the lack of adequate information and training given by those who sell pet primates to prospective owners:

    In our experience private breeders, pet shops and dealers do not give adequate information, let alone training, to prospective owners and often the information given is inaccurate or wrong. In order to secure a sale ... [prospective] owners are told ... [information] which is inaccurate [or] untrue.[89]

While this problem is not unique to online sales, internet trading can often make it worse.

61. The Pet Animals Act 1951 entered the statute books at a time when there was much less interest in keeping or breeding exotic animals as pets and before online sales of pet primates had been contemplated. A review of the Act would be beneficial to ensure that it remains relevant in the internet age.

62. We recommend that Defra review the Pet Animals Act 1951 to ensure that it remains relevant and effective in the internet age.

Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)

63. CITES, an international agreement drawn up in 1973, controls the international trade in primates, among other wild fauna and flora. Its aim is to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival. The species covered by CITES are listed in three Appendices according to the degree of protection provided.

64. Specimens of Appendix I species may be traded only in exceptional circumstances. Trade in specimens of Appendix II species is controlled to ensure the survival of the species. Appendix III contains species that are listed in at least one country that has asked other CITES Parties for assistance in controlling the trade. All primate species are listed in either Appendix I or Appendix II.

65. CITES is implemented in the European Union by Council Regulation 338/97 and Commission Regulation 865/2006 (collectively, the EU CITES regulations). The Control of Trade in Endangered Species (Enforcement) Regulations 1997 (COTES) enforce CITES in the UK.

66. We received little evidence in relation to CITES, the EU CITES regulations or COTES during our inquiry. The Minister, Lord de Mauley, told us that "Imports of wild-taken primates are subject to particularly rigorous control under the CITES system",[90] although this was disputed in supplementary evidence from Wild Futures.[91]

67. There was, however, consensus among witnesses that the domestic trade in pet primates presented a greater problem than international imports. According to Defra,

    there is little evidence to show that wild-caught primates are being transported to this country for the pet trade. It is more likely that UK residents will obtain a captive bred primate than one that is wild caught and then transported to this country.[92]

68. Ros Clubb of the RSPCA said:

    The general impression we get is that the majority [of pet primates] are not being brought into the country, although that does occur. There is certainly breeding within the country that is leading to an increase in the numbers kept.[93]

69. We received little evidence to suggest that changes to the CITES system are necessary to protect the welfare of privately kept primates in the UK. The evidence we received suggested that the domestic trade in pet primates represents a greater problem than international imports into the UK.

51   Animal Welfare Act 2006, s9 (2) Back

52   Animal Welfare Act 2006, s32(1)(b), 32(2) (b) and 32(5). The anticipated change to a maximum penalty of 51 weeks imprisonment for both of these offences, referred to in s32(1)(a) and 32(2)(a) of the AWA, will not take place unless and until s281(5) of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 is brought into force. As things stand, the maximum term of imprisonment remains six months.  Back

53   Defra [PAP 27], para 1.5 Back

54   Q 45 Back

55   Qq 60-61 Back

56   Reptile and Exotic Pet Trade Association [PAP 11], para 13 Back

57   Pet Industry Federation [PAP 40], p.1 Back

58   RSPCA [PAP 36], para 13. Back

59   Defra, Code of Practice for the Welfare of Privately Kept Non-Human Primates, 21 January 2010, p.1 Back

60   Q 33 Back

61   Hannah Buchanan-Smith [PAP 16], para 2.2 Back

62   Elizabeth Tyson [PAP 12], para 2.2 Back

63   Elizabeth Tyson [PAP 12], para 3.1 Back

64   Elizabeth Tyson [PAP 12], para 3.2 Back

65   RSPCA [PAP 36], para 20 Back

66   Q 36 Back

67   Monkey World [PAP], para 15 and Q 36 [Alison Cronin] Back

68   Q 36 Back

69   Defra, Secretary of State's Standards of Modern Zoo Practice, 11 September 2012. Back

70   Q 35 Back

71   Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976, s1(3). Back

72   RSPCA [PAP 36 Back

73   The Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976 (Modification) (No.2) Order 2007 (SI 2007/2465). Back

74   Elizabeth Tyson [PAP 12], p.2 Back

75   Wetheriggs Animal Rescue and Conservation Centre [PAP 2], p.1-2. Back

76   Defra [PAP 27], para 3.14 Back

77   Douglas Richardson [PAP 42], para 3; Ash Veterinary Surgery [PAP 39], p.1 Back

78   RSPCA [PAP 36], para 16. Back

79   Q 69 Back

80   Dogs, Research Paper 98/6, House of Commons Library, January 1998, p.6 Back

81   Keeping a pet shop is defined as "carrying on at premises of any nature ... a business of selling animals as pets". The definition excludes a person who only keeps or sells pedigree animals bred by him or the offspring of an animal kept by him as a pet. Back

82   Pet Animals Act 1951, s1(3) Back

83   Defra [PAP 27], para 3.9-3.10 Back

84   Defra [PAP 27], para 3.14 Back

85   Lisa Riley [PAP 24], p.2 Back

86   Lisa Riley [PAP 24], p.2 Back

87   Monkey World [PAP 31], para 18 and Animal Defenders International [PAP 34], para 5 Back

88   Monkey World [PAP 31], para 17 Back

89   Monkey World [PAP 31], para 17 Back

90   Q 49 Back

91   Wild Futures Supplementary [PAP 46], p.3 Back

92   Defra [PAP 27], para 2.3 Back

93   Q 7. See also Humane Society International [PAP 29], para 11. Back

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