Published: 06:00, 22 March 2021
| Updated: 11:49, 23 March 2021
More than 500 wild and potentially dangerous animals are owned by people in Kent.
Figures sent to animal welfare charity Born Free from local councils have revealed dozens of deadly snakes, wild cats and even a zebra reside in various towns across the county.
There are nine Dangerous Wild Animal licensees across Kent who between them own 516 animals.
There are 87 venomous snakes including West African gaboon vipers, snouted cobras and red diamond rattlesnakes.
Somewhere in Maidstone there is one zebra as well as a capuchin monkey in Canterbury and eight Savannah cats shared between Canterbury and Folkestone and Hythe.
Folkestone and Hythe District Council did not provide the number of licences in the district but data collected by Born Free revealed the felines living in the district.
Included in the figures are two Asian short clawed otters which are registered to Hadlow College in Tonbridge.
The vast majority of these animals are kept in Dover with 497 snakes, spiders, scorpions and a lizard. They are held between just two DWA licensees - one for a business premises and one for a residential premises.
Under these two licenses there are 200 scorpions, 86 snakes and 210 spiders.
No one living in Dartford, Gravesham, Sevenoaks, Swale, Thanet and Tunbridge Wells hold licences for dangerous pets.
Under the Dangerous Wild Animals Act, private owners can apply to local authorities for a licence to keep dangerous wild animals.
Circuses, zoos and licensed pet shops do not need DWA licenses.
However, wildlife charities say precautions prior to handing out these licences do not go far enough.
Dr Mark Jones, Born Free’s head of policy, says: “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.
“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.”
In 2019, the RSPCA rescued 115 DWA and exotic pets in Kent, having received almost 50 calls a day about concerns for the welfare of animals. This was usually due to the lack of research into pets needs.
Dr Ros Clubb from the RSPCA said: “We are deeply concerned about the number of dangerous wild animals being kept as pets. People may buy them with little idea of how dangerous they are, or how difficult they can be to keep which can result in neglect when the novelty wears off and the commitment hits home.
“Licences for exotic animals classed as Dangerous Wild Animals - such as cobras, ostriches and caiman - are granted by local authorities.
“The emphasis of the Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976 is on making sure the owner takes reasonable steps to prevent the animal from being a threat to the public, rather than the welfare of the animals concerned.
“This legislation is weakly drafted and badly enforced, and many owners simply don't bother to get a licence and are therefore escaping inspections.
“There is little or no consequence for those found to be keeping dangerous animals without a licence.”
Do you own a DWA licence and live with exotic pets and would be interested in talking to us? Email firstname.lastname@example.org