A new survey by international wildlife charity Born Free has revealed nearly 4,000 wild animals are kept by individuals in Great Britain – many as pets.
Research done by the charity on the number of Dangerous Wild Animal (DWA) Act licences granted last year showed the different animals being kept.
Shropshire comprised the highest number of licences in the region, with 70 boar, two savannah cats, one serval, six wolves and three zebras, while there were licences in Telford and Wrekin for eight venomous spiders and scorpions.
Local authorities in Staffordshire revealed nine licences were granted, three for two lions and a tiger in Cannock and six for camels in Stafford Borough, while in the Black Country, there was one licence granted for a capuchin monkey in Sandwell.
Dr Mark Jones, veterinarian and Born Free’s head of policy, said the charity had been collating data for more than 20 years and had seen a dramatic rise in the number of exotic pets in private ownership.
He said: “This includes a 94 percent increase in the number of venomous snakes, 57 percent increase in wild cats, 198 percent increase in crocodilians and more than a 2,000 percent increase in scorpions.
However, these figures are likely to represent only the tip of the iceberg as they only record those animals being kept and registered with a DWA licence.
“Born Free believes that many additional dangerous wild animals are being kept without a licence.” The entire combined data across all authorities highlighted that a total of 210 DWA licences were granted for the keeping of 3,951 individual wild animals.
This included 320 wild cats, 274 primates, 158 crocodiles, 508 venomous snakes, 332 scorpions, 106 venomous lizards and two elephants.
Dr Jones said the DWA 1976 had not been reviewed substantially for more than 40 years and expressed his concern at the number of dangerous animals being kept in private ownership.
He said: “It is unbelievable that, in this day and age, so many dangerous animals, including big cats, large primates, crocodiles and venomous snakes, are in private ownership in the UK."
Zachary Hollinshead, zoological director at Wild Zoological Park, in Halfpenny Green, said: “We have an ethos here at the zoo that we do not recommend exotic animals as pets.
“A monkey doesn’t belong in people’s homes. At the same time, there are hugely qualified experienced keepers of exotic animals who know how to look after animals, but wouldn’t class them as pets.
“If it’s an exotic animal that’s being kept as a companion in someone’s living room, that to me doesn’t ring true. In terms of diseases and danger, zoonotic diseases can pass between animals and people, but it all depends on how they’re captured and how they’re kept.
"For example, I’ve seen monkeys that have been kept in appalling conditions in living rooms and big cats in tiny cages or people’s back gardens, which I just cannot condone.”
Scott Adams, director at Telford Exotic Zoo, said: “A lot of people do keep spiders and scorpions and other creatures as pets and the majority of them don’t need a licence. But if they are going to keep animals who are a danger to the public, there needs to be a proper check in place, not just for the animal, but for the public.”