The international wildlife charity is calling on the UK Government to immediately review the law and put a stop to some of the world"s most remarkable, but often deadly, creatures being kept as "pets" in unsuitable captive conditions.
Born Free's research reviewed the number of Dangerous Wild Animal (DWA) Act licences granted by local authorities in 2020 across England, Scotland and Wales, and the variety of species being privately kept.
Local authorities in Sussex revealed that the licences granted cover 124 dangerous wild animals residing in the area, of which there are at least:
1 Diamondback rattlesnake
90 Wild boar
23 primates including Black and white ruffed lemurs, Red-bellied lemurs, Mongoose lemurs and a Red-fronted brown lemur
1 Brazilian tapir
1 Red panda
1 Serval cat
Shockingly, 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 including:
320 wild cats (including 61 big cats – 11 lions, 8 tigers, 11 leopards, 18 pumas, 10 cheetahs, 2 ligers and 1 jaguar)
274 primates (including over 150 lemurs)
508 venomous snakes (including 57 diamondback rattlesnakes)
106 venomous lizards
Other species on the DWA list that are being kept as pets or in private collections in the UK include zebras, camels, fossa (a kind of civet), hyaena, sun bears, wolves, and otters.
Dr Mark Jones, Veterinarian and Born Free's Head of Policy, said:
"Born Free has been collating and analysing DWA data for over 20 years.
"Since the millennium the wild animal welfare and conservation charity has seen a dramatic increase in the number of exotic pets in private ownership, including a 94% increase in the number of venomous snakes, 57% increase in wild cats, 198% increase in crocodilians and over a 2000% increase in scorpions.
"However, these figures are likely to represent only the tip of the iceberg. 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."
Currently, under the Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976, anyone in Britain can keep a dangerous wild animal as long as they obtain a licence from their Local Authority.
The licencing process requires the applicant to demonstrate that their animals are properly contained so as to prevent escape and protect the public, but this does little to ensure the welfare of the animals or the protection of the owner or anyone else visiting the property.
While changes have been made to the schedule, Born Free is highlighting the fact that the Act itself has not been reviewed substantially for more than 40 years.
This means, for example, that species such as Komodo dragons, other large monitors, and large constrictor snakes are not included on the schedule, despite the fact that they could pose a serious risk to their owners, and to members of the public, should they escape.
Furthermore, there is long-standing concern about widespread non-compliance with the Act, especially with respect to venomous reptiles and invertebrates.
Dr Mark Jones added:
"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.
"Increasing demand for all kinds of wild animals as exotic pets puts owners and the wider public at risk of injury or disease.
"It also results in serious animal suffering, and the demand increases the pressure on many wild populations which are often already under threat."