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

5  Application and enforcement

70. Responsibility for applying and enforcing the regulatory framework applicable to the welfare of pet primates generally rests with local authorities. Local authorities are responsible for administering and enforcing the Pet Animals Act 1951 and the Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976. Depending on the type of offence and the animals involved, enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act 2006 may be led by the RSPCA, local authorities, the police or Defra. The RSPCA usually leads on AWA cases relating to companion and domestic animals.[94]

High levels of non-compliance

71. Evidence suggests that the regulatory framework is not being applied or enforced adequately and that levels of non-compliance are high. Much of the evidence we received on this topic referred to the DWAA, and the Primate Code, but some witnesses referred to non-compliance with other elements of the regulatory framework such as the Pet Animals Act 1951 and CITES.

72. The RSPCA and Lisa Riley described "extremely high levels of non-compliance [with the DWAA], estimated to be 85 to 95%".[95] Rachel Hevesi of Wild Futures told us that "Of those animals that arrive at the Wild Futures Monkey Sanctuary, about 82% have never been licensed or were not licensed at some stage". Research by the RSPCA revealed that "amongst local authorities awareness of the Primate Code is low, greatly restricting its usefulness, and that provisions within the Code are not always applied".[96] The RSPCA had also found "very little evidence of awareness of the Primate Code amongst keepers" and that "even when owners are aware, they do not appear to abide by it".[97]

73. A lack of awareness of the rules and guidance is likely to be an important factor in explaining high rates of non-compliance. Lord de Mauley, described "a misconception among some members of the public that it is acceptable to keep a primate in a cage, feed it an inappropriate diet and keep it on its own".[98] He suggested that, while this was against the law, there was a need to explore "how we get that message out".[99]

74. Mike Seton, Senior Veterinary Officer at the City of London Corporation, told us that while "Some local authorities are quite keen on enforcing the Dangerous Wild Animals Act … Almost certainly, there is a large underreporting of animals under the [Act]".[100] He put this down to two factors: the cost of a licence and the relative ease with which people can avoid it.[101]

75. For many witnesses, high non-compliance rates reflected the limitations in resources and expertise in local authorities charged with enforcing the legislation. REPTA acknowledged that "Animal welfare is a low priority for local authorities which, whilst regrettable, is understandable when resources are stretched thinly".[102] The Pet Industry Federation said

    consideration must be paid to those carrying out the inspection process … inspectors must have a thorough knowledge and understanding of the species in question and … local authorities should have sufficient resources for adequate enforcement, as we understand that compliance under the DWA[A] is low.[103]

Monkey World told us that:

    Local authority persons in charge of assessing DWA licences are not qualified in the care of exotic animals and in particular primates, nor are RSPCA inspectors. This makes applying the Code of Practice a nonsense as there is no understanding of basic animal husbandry or animal behaviour.[104]

76. If lack of expertise is one of the main drivers of weak enforcement, one potential solution is for local authorities to buy in specialist expertise. Mike Seton told us that this is something that most local authorities would do,[105] but some witnesses highlighted a potential shortage of appropriately qualified vets. Rachel Hevesi told us that "appropriately qualified vets are still in very short supply"[106] while the Born Free Foundation explained that "Exotic animal medicine remains a minor part of the veterinary curriculum and specialist knowledge of primate medicine is not widespread among veterinary practitioners".[107]

77. Andrew Greenwood, a member of the British Veterinary Zoological Society (BVZS), had a different view. He said:

    We at BVZS have tried to pressure Defra to ask local authorities to use people off the zoo-licensing inspectors list and people who have diplomas in zoo and wildlife medicine, of which we have quite a lot. There are quite a lot of people who could do the job properly … It is not a question of not being able to find somebody. However, if local authorities have contracted somebody to do their other inspections, they tend to give them that, too.[108]

78. A regulatory framework will not achieve its objectives if levels of non-compliance are high, and evidence suggests that non-compliance with the framework governing the welfare of pet primates is too high. Reasons for this include low awareness of the rules and guidance amongst local authorities, keepers and members of the public, and limitations on the resources and expertise held by local authorities. Constraints on public funding make it unlikely that more resources will become available in the near future.

79. We recommend that Defra launch a public education campaign to raise awareness of the Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976 and the Primate Code among local authorities, primate keepers and members of the public.

Variation in practice

80. In June 2001, Defra published an Effectiveness Study of the Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976.[109] The authors of the study found that the "licensing procedures and fees charged … vary widely between areas".[110] They also found that "some local authorities have failed to apply mandatory conditions to licences, [while] others have granted unlawful retrospective licences".[111] The authors noted that "Local authorities received a guidance circular from the Home Office shortly before the Act came into force, but there has been no official guidance from a government department since then".[112]

81. On the evidence we received during our inquiry, it seems that little has changed on these matters since the Effectiveness Study was published. Andrew Greenwood, one of the authors of the Study, told us:

    The gap we are waiting to be filled with the DWA is actually from Defra, which has been promising guidelines for local authorities on how to properly administer the DWA for quite a long time. We are pressing them to actually get them out there.[113]

82. When we asked the Minister to explain the reasons for the delay in issuing this guidance he said, "we are actively working on that guidance and will expedite it. I will take away that message … It is going through the usual procedures to get it right".[114] A page from Defra's website, originally published in October 2008 and updated in June 2010, states that

    the Department will soon be publishing comprehensive guidance for local authorities and keepers on the provisions of the Act … It is hoped the guidance … will promote a more consistent implementation of the legislation, assist with increasing support and compliance amongst animal keepers and, ultimately, in more effective operation of the Act.[115]

83. These objectives seem laudable, but we are keen to ensure that the opportunity is taken to encourage local authorities to employ inspectors with the necessary expertise in zoo and wildlife medicine. As Alison Cronin told us, "it would be very easy for the Government to issue advice … to local authorities to employ the inspectors and the known experts in this field of work in licensing situations".[116]

Guidance from central Government to local authorities on the provisions and implementation of the Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976 is long overdue. As a result, opportunities have been lost to reduce wide variations in the application and enforcement of the Act and to ensure that DWAA inspectors have sufficient expertise to carry out their role effectively.

84. We recommend that Defra issue its guidance to local authorities on the provisions and implementation of the Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976 without further delay. This guidance should include advice to authorities on employing experts from the zoo-licensing inspectors list or those with diplomas in zoo and wildlife medicine.

94   Defra, Animal Welfare Act 2006: Who enforces the Act?, 15 August 2008. Back

95   RSPCA [PAP 36], para 16 and Lisa Riley [PAP 24], p.2 Back

96   RSPCA [PAP 36], para 21 Back

97   RSPCA [PAP 36], para 22. Back

98   Q 45 Back

99   Q 45 Back

100   Q 11 Back

101   Q 11 Back

102   Reptile and Exotic Pet Trade Association [PAP 11], para 23. Back

103   Pet Industry Federation [PAP 40], p.1-2 Back

104   Monkey World [PAP 31], para 14. Back

105   Q 14 Back

106   Q 14 Back

107   Born Free Foundation [PAP 15], p.3 Back

108   Qq 33-34 Back

109   Defra, Effectiveness Study of the Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976, June 2001. Back

110   Defra, Effectiveness Study of the Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976, June 2001. P.2 Back

111   Ibid. Back

112   Ibid. Back

113   Q 34 Back

114   Q 48 Back

115   Defra, Dangerous Wild Animals Act: Review of the Act, June 2010.  Back

116   Q 38 Back

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Prepared 10 June 2014