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

Conclusions and recommendations

A ban on keeping pet primates

1.  A ban remains a possible way of addressing the welfare problems associated with primates being kept as pets. However, this is not a solution that should be adopted in the absence of reliable, compelling evidence or while there is still potential for improving the operation of the existing regulatory framework. Obtaining a more reliable evidence base must be the first task for Government. (Paragraph 12)

The scope and scale of the problem

2.  We have been struck by the wide range of estimates of the numbers of primates both kept and traded as pets in the UK, as well as the lack of confidence in these numbers expressed by many witnesses. (Paragraph 24)

3.  We recommend that Defra commission independent research on the number and type of primates being traded and kept as pets in the UK. To increase the reliability of this research, we recommend that private keepers be given six months to register their primates before research begins. This call for registration should be supported by a publicity campaign explaining the benefits of registration, or a sanction. The Government should inform us of the results of this research within six months of receiving them, along with its plans for securing the welfare of pet primates in light of these results. (Paragraph 25)

The regulatory framework

4.  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. (Paragraph 33)

5.  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. (Paragraph 39)

6.  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. (Paragraph 40)

7.  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. (Paragraph 44)

8.  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. (Paragraph 45)

9.  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. (Paragraph 54)

10.  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. (Paragraph 61)

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

12.  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. (Paragraph 69)

Application and enforcement

13.  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. (Paragraph 78)

14.  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. (Paragraph 79)

15.  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. (Paragraph 83)

16.  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. (Paragraph 84)

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Prepared 10 June 2014