I am grateful to Clive Moulding for providing the following information
The Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976 was introduced to tackle the increasing fashion in the late 1960's and early 1970's for people to keep exotic pets which were all too often from the more dangerous species. It became unacceptable, simply from a public safety point of view, for the average citizen to be free to purchase an animal from the 'big cat' families, a crocodile, or venomous snake, without some form of control.
The Act's schedule designates the species covered, such as many primates, carnivores, bears, larger reptiles, dangerous spiders and scorpions. Keeping such animals without a local authority licence is unlawful and the authority is also entitled to specify where and how the animal is to be kept. This law also requires keepers to have their animals covered by a satisfactory liability insurance policy.
It is thought the enactment of this law led to a number of releases into the countryside of the UK, including some that may have subsequently produced the 'big cat' sightings that are often reported. Indeed, in 1978 a Puma was captured in Inverness-shire and, despite extensive enquiries, its origin was never established. However, it would have made a perfect prosecution under the abandonment legislation, had its keeper been traced. It would also, of course, have been an offence under section 14 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 - releasing or allowing to escape into the wild any animal not ordinarily resident in Great Britain.
The Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976, although targeted at a specific problem, again offers wider scope to enforcement officers, since its schedule includes many CITES species, and its potential should never be ignored.
One normally finds that it is Environmental Health Departments within local authorities who are given the task of administering this legislation. No specific powers are granted to the police under this Act. However, local authorities are entitled to authorise veterinary surgeons and such other competent persons to inspect premises where animals are to be kept. Animals kept contrary to the Act are also subject to seizure by the authority.
There is a pdf file of the review of the history and implementation of this legislation on the DEFRA website. Thanks to Professor Alayne Street-Perrott for this information.
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