Primates as pets in England

Closed 6 Feb 2021

Opened 12 Dec 2020


We are launching this consultation to seek your views on whether the Government should bring forward legislation to ban the keeping of primates as pets in England.

A primate [1] is any member of the biological order Primates; this includes all the species commonly referred to as lemurs, monkeys and apes. 

Call for Evidence

In October 2019 Defra launched a Call for Evidence on the Welfare of Primates as Pets, which closed in January 2020. The Call for Evidence sought evidence about the number of primates kept as pets and their welfare, how they are acquired, and how any new restrictions might apply. Defra received over 200 responses to the Call for Evidence.  The summary of responses document is published alongside this consultation.

The Call for Evidence provided evidence of poor welfare among many primates kept as pets in England. Many respondents stated that existing legislation does not adequately protect the welfare of primates kept as pets. We received evidence of primates kept in bird cages and fed junk food, and the physical and psychological harm that this causes. The Call for Evidence revealed strong support for reform in order to improve the welfare of primates as pets.

Our policy proposal

In response to the views expressed in the Call for Evidence, we are proposing the introduction of a new prohibition on keeping primates in England, backed by civil penalties, which will restrict breeding, acquiring, buying, gifting, selling, or otherwise transferring primates, apart from to persons licensed to keep primates to zoo standards.

Such persons include, but are not limited to, zoo licence holders (a zoo licence is required if the premises are open to the public for seven days or more in a twelve-month period).  Some primates may also be being kept in comparable conditions to those provided by zoo licence holders, but not in premises that are open to the public for this amount of time.  We consider that the new prohibition should not apply to these individuals as long as they are indeed applying zoo-level standards. In order to establish and be reassured that this is so, we propose introducing a new ‘specialist private primate keeper’ licence, and suggest that the new prohibition would only not apply to primate keepers if they hold one of these new licences (or a zoo licence).  The new licence would be introduced under new legislation and would only be available to primate keepers who provide for their primates’ standards of welfare equivalent to those required of zoo licence holders. 

We anticipate that a large number of primates are likely to be subject to the new prohibition (because they are not kept to standards that would enable the keeper to qualify for a zoo licence or for the ‘specialist private primate keeper' licence). Given this and the limited capacity of primate rescue centres to cater for all such primates, we need to consider carefully how the prohibition will affect them.

We propose that all primates not kept by licensed zoos or by persons holding the new form of licence should be registered with the relevant Local Authority and should have an initial Local Authority visit to determine the appropriate course of action for that individual primate.  Some primates may be found to be living in conditions which meet their basic welfare needs but which fall short of zoo standards, or their basic needs could be met pursuant to a Local Authority improvement notice (issued under the Animal Welfare Act 2006).  We suggest that, given the absence of other alternatives, these primates may continue to stay where they are for the rest of their lives or until they can be rehomed, subject to an annual vet visit (and associated Local Authority improvement notice where necessary).  Their keepers would also continue to be prohibited from other activities (such as breeding, buying and acquiring new primates). 

Where a primate is experiencing suffering and cruelty, in ways which cannot be rectified with an improvement notice, it would need to be removed, with all efforts made to rehome it where feasible.  It is possible that some of these primates may be in such a poor condition and have such limited chances of improvement that they cannot be kept any longer.  Separate existing criminal offences under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 would apply where basic welfare needs are not being met, and where cruelty or suffering is found.

These proposals do not affect the protections and other requirements and arrangements which already apply to persons holding a zoo licence under the Zoo Licensing Act 1981 or holding a Home Office ‘animals (scientific procedures) licence’ under the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986. Where ‘primate keepers’ or ‘primate keeping’ are referred to in this consultation document, the term does not include those keeping primates under either of these existing licensing regimes.

Local Authorities would be responsible for applying and enforcing the new 'specialist private primate keeper' licensing scheme for primates kept to zoo-level standards, and the new registration scheme for other primates, as is the case with much existing animal welfare legislation. We will be working with Local Authorities to determine how enforcement will be carried out and we will provide funding for any net additional costs. 


Animal welfare is a devolved issue and so these reforms would apply to England only. Defra is in the process of discussing with the Devolved Administrations whether they would be interested in introducing similar measures.


[1] “Primate” also includes humans but for the purposes of this consultation we are only concerned about non-human primates.

Why your views matter

This consultation sets out our core policy proposal and asks for your views on whether it is the right approach. The consultation also asks for views on additional measures, and on suggestions relating to the practicalities of how new restrictions might apply.

The findings of the consultation will help us determine which new measures to bring forward in legislation.

What happens next

The consultation has now closed. Thank you for your input. We will be assessing the feedback from all respondents. A summary of responses to this consultation will be published on the Government website at:



  • Charities/Voluntary Organisations
  • Animal welfare campaigners
  • Vets
  • Government Departments
  • Devolved Administrations
  • Households
  • Local Authorities
  • Pet Owners
  • Pet Interest Groups
  • Veterinarians
  • Local Authorities
  • Member of the General Public


  • Animals
  • Conservation
  • Consultations
  • Animal welfare
  • Pets
  • Protecting pets from cruelty
  • Protecting wildlife
  • Non-native species
  • Zoos
  • Dangerous and wild animals