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Dogs are, famously, man’s best friend. 

But thousands of people in the UK have instead chosen venomous snakes, wild cats and crocodiles for pets.

New figures obtained by the wildlife charity Born Free Foundation show licences were issued by 126 local authorities to private owners across the UK for 2,727 animals categorised as dangerous under the Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976.

The permits covered more than 200 wild cats and 250 primates, as well as about 400 venomous snakes, which Born Free estimates is 10 times the number kept in zoos.

The charity has said an overhaul of current legislation on the keeping of dangerous animals is a “matter of urgency”.

Dr Mark Jones, Born Free’s head of policy, said: “It is unbelievable that, in this day and age, so many dangerous animals, including big cats, large primates, crocodiles and venomous snakes, continue to be legally kept in people’s homes in the UK.

“Increasing demand for and trade in 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,” he added.

Southeast England had the highest number of dangerous wild animals, as well as having the most primates.

The east of England had the highest number of wild cats, including several leopards, cheetahs, and lynxes.

Read more:
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A Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs spokesperson said anyone wishing to keep an animal under the Dangerous Wild Animals Act must be vetted and apply for a licence which sets out conditions on caring for the animal.

They added: “We keep this legislation under regular review to ensure it remains effective in keeping the public safe.”

They said the government increased the maximum prison sentence for animal cruelty to five years in 2021 and is currently bringing forward legislation to ban primates being kept as domestic pets.

The legislation will create a new licensing scheme setting stricter rules for private owners.

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