UK Exotic Animal Amnesty Deadline Looms On 21st November an amnesty currently being enjoyed by keepers of many species of animal will come to an end. On that date anyone who has in their possession any European Protected Species, (EPS), such as a Dormouse, Great Crested Newt, Common Lizard, Smooth Snake, or a Wild Cat, and who does not have a licence to keep it, is breaking the law and liable to a fine of up to £5000 or even imprisonment.
Captive bred animals, animals acquired before June 1994, and animals captured outside the EU are exempt from the licensing requirement. However, the law presumes that the animal in question has been taken from the wild and that, if prosecuted, it is for the defendant to show that it was captive bred.
On 21 August 2007 an amendment to the Conservation Natural Habitats Regulations 1994 [.pdf] came into force.
The Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs, (Defra) granted a period of three months after the Regulations came into force to allow people time to obtain licences. After that period (21st November), it will be an offence to possess Annex IV or Annex II(b) species, (see Regulations link) without a licence unless a relevant defence applies.
There is concern within the exotics sector of the pet industry that the burdon of proof of a 'relevant defence', lies with the keeper. Many will be unable to prove through documentation, that their animals do not require licensing.
They find themselves in something of a cleft stick. The enforcing organisation for this Regulation is the conservation body Natural England. It appears that Natural England is not inclined to grant licences to private individual animal keepers. In any case its stringent licensing criteria are unlikely be met by most keepers.
Some are concerned that far from conserving captive species, worried keepers may simply decide that the risk of prosecution is too great and dispose of their animals. Should they decide to do this, they will need to 'dispose' of them well because a licence is also required if you want to keep the preserved body or body-part of a protected animal.
Additionally there are concerns that some keepers of exotics may not seek veterinary advice or treatment for their animals when needed because they risk exposing their unlicensed animals to the authorities.
A vigorous campaign against the legislation is underway led by the exotics lobby group Pro-Keepers Lobby.