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Article England: Ban on Private Ownership of Primates Proposed

On December 14, 2023, the British government laid before Parliament a draft of the Animal Welfare (Primate Licenses) (England) Regulations, which would ban the private ownership of primates in England. The draft statutory instrument would require from April 6, 2026, onward that any person who keeps a primate obtain a primate license issued under the regulations. Two exceptions to the license requirements would exist: for primates kept in a zoo under a license obtained under the Zoo Licensing Act 1981 and primates kept in a place under a license issued under section 2C of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986.

Local authorities in the area in which the primates would be kept would be responsible for issuing primate licenses. Keeping a primate without a license would be a criminal offense, punishable upon summary conviction with up to six months’ imprisonment or a fine, or both penalties.

Local authorities would be able to attach to the licenses conditions that are specified in schedule 1 of the draft regulations. The conditions are lengthy and include the requirements that:

  • A sufficient number of people be present on the premises each day to provide the care required by the license conditions.
  • Each primate be implanted with a microchip that meets criteria specified in the regulations.
  • Written records be kept for each primate.
  • A detailed written emergency plan be in place and readily accessible along with written procedures that cover the temporary isolation, death, or escape of a primate, along with how the primate would be cared for if the license is revoked or the license holder dies.
  • The license holder obtain advice or guidance on a diet plan for each primate from an expert every 12 months, or more frequently if necessary, and ensure that each primate has a suitable diet and fresh clean drinking water that are provided in receptacles that are cleaned daily, if not more frequently, and placed in positions that minimize negative interactions between primates in the enclosure and allow them “to exhibit and develop their natural feeding and foraging behaviours.” (Sch. 1, ¶ 13(b).)
  • The primates be registered with a veterinarian who agrees to provide routine visits and veterinary treatment to the primate.
  • The primates be weighed monthly and monitored daily for a number of signs, including pain, distress, or abnormal behavior, with written records kept of the weight and any abnormal signs.
  • The enclosure the primate is kept in have an indoor and outdoor area and that the size take into account the welfare of the primates housed in it, be safe from predators, and contain hanging and climbing structures, resting platforms, bedding materials, and natural planting. These items must all meet a number of criteria contained in the regulations.
  • The primates be housed in “appropriate social groups” and “provided with suitable enrichment material for the purpose of drawing out appropriate natural behaviours and providing them with suitable social, physical, sensory and cognitive stimuli.”
  • The primates be handled only by a competent person.
  • The primates be transported only for the purposes of veterinary visits, exhibition activities, or their relocation.
  • Any breeding be carried out under the supervision of a veterinarian.

Local authorities would also be able to issue a rectification notice or vary or revoke primate licenses in their entirety. Failing to comply with the license conditions would be an offense, punishable with a fine upon summary conviction.

These regulations fulfill an election manifesto pledge from the Conservative Party government and form part of the government’s Action Plan for Animal Welfare. The proposal received overwhelming public support, with 97% of respondents to a public consultation being in favor of the proposed measures.

Clare Feikert-Ahalt, Law Library of Congress
March 4, 2024

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