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Overhaul of dangerous wild animals act

A LONG-STANDING law designed to classify and control the licensing of wild and exotic animal species is due to be overhauled by the Government.

Owners of dangerous pets which escape, such as alligators, lions and monkeys, will be charged for their recapture under a number of proposals in the re-vamped Dangerous Wild Animals Act published by the Government this week.

Scorpions and four species of poisonous snake are also to be classed as "dangerous wild animals" in response to growing interest in keeping them. Owners will have to obtain a licence and follow strict pet-keeping rules laid down in the Act.

The licensing of exotic pets was initially devised in the 1970s in response to a fashion for keeping big cats, which led to the Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976. It is believed that the proliferation of sightings of ‘Alien Big Cats’ since the late 1970s can be traced directly back to the DWA, which led to several owners freeing their big cats, which almost certainly included Asiatic Jungle Cats and possible even a puma or two.

The Government says it wants to streamline and update the rules, placing a new responsibility on owners to inform local authorities of the escape of a controlled pet. Owners face a fine of up to £5,000 for breaking the rules.

Local authorities will also have new powers to enter premises, having first obtained a warrant, where it is believed a dangerous wild animal is kept illegally.

Some animals will no longer be classed as dangerous, such as farmed ostriches and emus, which account for the largest number of licences presently issued under the Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976. Other animals to be removed from the list include the sloth, porcupine and Bengal cat, a hybrid species that is part domestic cat and part Asian leopard, although most specimens today are many generations removed from any wild Bengal cat cross.

Wolf Hybrids, which caused so much controversy in the 1990s, are likely to be included in the provisions of the Act.

The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said it was unsure whether the dwarf cayman and dwarf crocodile should remain on the list and was seeking views as to whether anacondas, the rock and reticulated python and snapping turtles should be added to it.

The "formal duty of care" placed on owners is spelt out in the Government's animal health and welfare strategy, published last week, and is to be incorporated into the new Animal Welfare Bill, due to be brought forward sometime before the next General Election.

The period of a licence will be extended from a year to 18 months, although the price will stay the same.