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Back to Regulations Concerning the Private Possession of Big Cats

I. Introduction

Protection of wildlife and trade issues at the European Union (EU) level fall within the scope of Regulation No. 338/97 on the Protection of Species of Wild Fauna and Flora by Regulating Trade Therein, as amended.[1] This Regulation replaced Regulation No. 3626/82, which was adopted in implementation of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).[2] Currently, all EU Members are parties to CITES. Approximately 5,000 species of animals are included as wild fauna and are categorized in appendices relative to their degree of extinction. Wild cats are cited under the species name of felidae—which  also includes panthers, leopards, jaguars, Asiatic golden cats, tigers, and others—and are included in Annex I.[3]

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II. Regulation of Wildlife

In compliance with CITES, Regulation No. 338/97 divides the species into four groups listed in four appendixes.  The scope of the Regulation is broader than the Convention, since it includes in the four groups the fauna and flora listed in the appendices and any other species that may be in demand within the EU or for international trade and that are threatened by extinction,[4] or species for which it has been established that their introduction within the natural habitat of the EU “would constitute an ecological threat to wild species of fauna and flora indigenous to the Community.”[5]

Regulation No. 338/97 prohibits the purchase, offer to purchase, keeping for sale, offering for sale, and exploitation of animals listed in Annex I for commercial purposes through public display.[6]  Exceptions apply for research, education, or breeding purposes.  EU Members have the discretion to prohibit the holding of animals listed in Annex I.

A.  Import of Wild Fauna

The import of wild animals within the EU is subject to strict requirements.  An import permit is required for animals in Annexes A and B, and is issued by the competent scientific authority designated by the Member State of destination.  The scientific authority designated must consult the country of origin, after following a specific procedure and after obtaining an advisory opinion by the Scientific Review Group.[7]  A permit is issued if a number of restrictions described in article 8 and the conditions enumerated in article 4 of the Regulation are met.  The conditions for the introduction of wild fauna within the EU include inter alia that the animal must be

  • intended for breeding purposes;
  • intended for research or educational purposes designed to preserve or conserve the species concerned;
  • required for the advancement of science or for important biomedical purposes;[8] or
  • required for other purposes that are not harmful to the survival of the species concerned.[9]

The specific technical details for the implementation of Regulation 338/97 are determined by Regulation No. 865/2006.[10]

B.  Export from the EU

The export or re-export from the EU of wild fauna listed in Annex A is subject to an export permit presented to the customs office.  The permit is issued by the management authority of each Member State after the following conditions, as required by the competent scientific authority and the management authority, are met:

  • A determination in writing by the competent scientific authority that the capture or the collection of wild live animals or their export will not harm the conservation status of the said species; and
  • The applicant provides proof that the animals have been obtained in compliance with national legislation.[11]

EU Members must designate customs offices to execute the checks and formalities on imports and exports in compliance with the Community Customs Code.[12]

C.  Movement Within the EU

The movement of a live wild cat listed in Annex A from the EU Member indicated in the import permit in another Member State requires prior authorization from the management authority of the Member State where the animal is located.[13]  Authorization is not needed for urgent veterinary care, however.[14]

D.  Penalties for Infringements

The appropriate competent national authorities are required to monitor implementation of Regulation No. 338/97.  In the case of infringement of the Regulations, the authorities must inform the Commission or the CITES Secretariat of any measures taken to deal with such violations.[15]  The Commission determines when an investigation is necessary and informs the Member State concerned.

The Regulation requires EU Members to impose penalties in the case of certain infringements related to the import and export of specified animals without a permit or a certificate or through the use of false documents, and the purchase, acquisition for commercial purposes, display to the public for gain, sale or offering for sale of such animals.[16]

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III.  Regulation of Zoos

Directive 1999/22/EC on keeping wild animals in zoos[17] was adopted with the objective of protecting wild fauna, conserving biodiversity, and ensuring that EU Members adopt measures to regulate issues related to zoos, such as licensing and inspections.

A license is required for the opening of a new zoo or within four years for zoos that existed prior to March 1999 when the Directive entered into force.[18]  Each license is conditional on the fulfillment of certain requirements by the zoo, such as the promotion of public education, record keeping, and compliance with biological and preservation requirements the specific to species to be kept in the facility.[19]  Regulation and registration requirements to open and maintain a zoo could also be considered as adequate measures in lieu of a license.[20]  EU Members are required to designate competent authorities to ensure implementation of this Directive and to determine the applicable penalties for violations of national laws regarding the opening and maintenance of zoos.[21]

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IV.  Conservation of Natural Habitats of Wild Fauna

Under Directive 1992/43/EEC on the Conservation of Natural Habitats of Wild Fauna and Flora,[22] the capture, keeping, and trading of a large number of animals is prohibited.  Exemptions are provided for a number of specific reasons, such as research, education, and breeding.

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V.  Draft Regulation on Animal Health

On May 6, 2013, the European Commission issued a proposal on a comprehensive new regulation governing issues related to animal health, welfare, and trade between the European Union Member States.[23]  The main objective of the proposal is to address food and safety concerns and to provide a mechanism for a quick response to health-related problems.  Its scope is very broad; it would extends to both wild animals and animals kept in captivity. 

The movement of wild animals from a habitat in a Member State to another habitat in another Member State would be possible if

  • such movement does not pose a significant risk of spreading listed or emerging diseases, designated as such by the Commission based on certain criteria;
  • persons in charge of moving the animals have a health certificate; and
  • the authorities of the Member State of destination are informed by the authorities of the Member State of origin.[24] 

Upon adoption of this Regulation, the Commission would be empowered to adopt implementing regulations regarding procedural and other details relating to the movement of wild animals in establishments, such as zoos, or pet animals, and the health certificate requirements for such moves.[25]

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Theresa Papademetriou
Senior Foreign Law Specialist
June 2013


[1] Council Regulation (EC) No. 338/97 of 9 December 1996 on the Protection of Species of Wild Fauna and Flora by Regulating Trade Therein, 1997 O.J. (L 61) 1, 1997:061:0001:0069:EN:PDF.

[2] Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), Mar. 3, 1973, 27 U.S.T. 1087, T.I.A.S. 8249, 993 U.N.T.S. 243,, as amended, June 1, 1979, T.I.A.S. 11079, and Apr. 30, 1983, http://www.cites. org/eng/disc/gaborone.php (Gaborone Amendment).  For a list of parties, see the CITES website, (last visited June 3, 2013).

[3] Council Regulation (EC) No. 338/97, supra note 1, Annex I, at 31.

[4] Id. art. 3, para. 1(b).

[5] Id. art. 3, para. 2(d).

[6] Id. art. 8.

[7] Id. art. 4.  The Scientific Review Group is comprised of national scientific authorities designated by each Member State.

[8] Id. art. 8, para. 3(e)–(g).

[9] Id. art. 4, para. 1(a)(ii).

[10] Regulation (EC) No. 865/2006 of 4 May 2006 Laying Down Detailed Rules Concerning the Implementation of Council Regulation (EC) No. 338/97 on the Protection of Species of Wild Fauna and Flora by Regulating Trade Therein, 2006 O.J. (L 166) 1, 0069:EN:PDF.

[11] Id. art. 5, para. 2 (a) and (b). For additional requirements, see art. 5.

[12] Regulation No. 2913/1992 on Customs Code, 1992 O.J. (L 302) 1,, as amended by Regulation (EC) No. 450/2008 Laying down the Community Customs Code (Modernised Customs Code), 2008 O.J. (L 145) 1, Serv/

13[] Council Regulation (EC) No. 338/97, supra note 1, art. 9, para. 1.

14[] Id. art. 9, para. 3.

[15] Id. art. 14, para. 1(a)–(c).

[16] Id. art. 16.

[17] Council Directive 1999/22/EC of 29 March 1999 Relating to the Keeping of Wild Animals in Zoos, 1999 O.J. (L 94) 24,

[18] Id. art. 4, para. 2.

[19] Id. art. 3.

[20] Id. art. 5.

[21] Id. arts. 7, 8.

[22] Directive 1992/43/EEC of 29 March 1999 on the Conservation of Natural Habitats of Wild Fauna and Flora, 1992 O.J. (L 206) 7,

[23] Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on Animal Health, COM (2013) 260 final (May 6, 2013),

[24] Id. art. 153.

[25] Id. art. 154.

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Last Updated: 06/30/2015