OWNING AND KEEPING WILD CAT HYBRIDS IN THE UK
This article is a commentary on the issues surrounding the keeping of wildcat hybrids in Britain. As well as information taken directly from the Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976 (amended March 2010), it gives a commentary and examples of issues that can arise.
Please note: I do not own or trade wildcats or in wildcat hybrids and I cannot put readers in contact with anyone who sells wildcats or hybrids.
HISTORY OF THE DANGEROUS WILD ANIMALS ACT
The keeping of wildcat hybrids in Britain is governed by the Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976 (referred to in this article as the DWAA for brevity). This act contains a Schedule listing the animals and hybrids it covers. This article concentrates on wild cats, though the Schedule covers any animal not considered domestic.
The DWAA was created to control "dangerous" wild animals at a time when big cats such leopards, lions, cheetahs and pumas could be bought from pet-shops and kept in ordinary livestock pens or in the home. Big cats such as cheetahs and leopards could even be walked on the streets on a leash among the general public. The famous story "A Lion Called Christian" (since made into a film) featured a lion cub bought from Harrods and raised in a household. Inevitably, some of those cute baby wild animals ended up with irresponsible or incompetent owners who didn't know how to care for them, and no idea how to cope with a fully grown wildcat. People got injured and animals escaped. Many were surrendered (and generally destroyed) or abandoned when they grew too large to be controlled by the owner. Legislation and licensing was required to control ownership and accommodation of dangerous wild animals.
In 1976, the DWAA banned the keeping of dangerous wild animals, including most wild cat species, unless licensed and kept in secure accommodation. A person that owned dangerous wild animals at any premises (home, garden, private menagerie) immediately before the DWAA became effective, had 90 days grace in which to either apply for a licence or dispose of the animal(s). No-one was sure how many wild cats were privately owned (because it was so easy to obtain one) and it is widely believed that some owners secretly released their big cats, knowing that they could not meet the requirements of the DWAA and that their animals would probably be destroyed if confiscated. Leopards, in particular black leopards, were popular exotic pets and the sightings of "big black cats" in the British countryside is often attributed to these being let loose (most sightings turn out to domestic animals seen in poor light).
The DWAA sometimes has to be updated to include new species or to downgrade others so they, or their hybrids, don't need licensing. It was written in 1976, before modern hybrid-derived breeds became popular. Asian Leopard Cat hybrids (Bengal breed) and Jungle Cat hybrids (Chausie breed) had not been bred in Britain. hence these wildcats and their F1 hybrids with domestic cats require a licence in order to keep them. Although the Jungle Cat requires licensing, Jungle Cats have been found in the wild in the UK. These may have been illegally owned or may represent a small wild population of this species descended from earlier escapees.
WHICH SPECIES AND HYBRIDS MUST BE LICENSED?
The DWAA legislation requires a person or organisation to have a licence in order to keep any animal listed on the Schedule. Examples of licensed organisations (in Section 5 of the DWAA) are circuses and zoos (although circuses face a separate ban on having wild animals in legislation being debated in 2011 and 2012). Individuals must obtain a licence to keep wildcats unless that wildcat species is listed as an exception on the Schedule. This restriction affects foundation stock and first generation (F1) hybrids in breeding programmes for Bengals, Savannahs, Chausies and Caracats. For historical reasons, it does not affect Safari Cats, Oncilla hybrids or F silvestris hybrids. Unsurprisingly, the excepted wildcat species are those that are similar in size to domestic cats in size. The list doesn't include every small wildcat, and some are additionally covered by CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) and are not available to members of the general public.
Local authorities enforce the DWAA and have some discretion. In the 1990s, some local authorities tried to enforce the DWAA on Bengals due to scare stories in tabloid newspaper, but these were not covered by the Dangerous Wild Animals Act and in any case, many were already safely owned as pets and it was not possible to enforce it retrospectively. The DWAA has been amended so that F2 and later generations do not require a licence.
Not all small wildcat species are restricted by the act. The following smaller wildcats, and their hybrids, are currently "excepted" from this legislation. In the context of the DWAA, "hybrid" means hybrids between the wild species (e.g. Geoffroy's Cat x Scottish Wildcat) and also hybrids between a wildcat and a domestic cat (e.g. Oncilla x domestic cat).
Geoffroy's Cats; the wild parent of the Safari Cat breed
In Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, legislation appears looser and larger wildcats can be kept without a licence and in accommodation that would not meet UK standards. This raises the risk of a restricted wildcat being smuggled into the UK from Ireland without going through a major port. Indeed, this may explain some of the "big cat" sightings in the UK. In contrast, the USA has a hotch-potch of laws that vary state-by-state. Some states place few, if any, restrictions on keeping wildcats or other wild animals. Others, such as New York and Massachusetts there are is stricter state-level legislation. Some legislation has the loophole that a pure-bred lion or tiger is prohibited, but a hybrid liger isn't covered.
Keeping a non-excepted wildcat species or hybrid is a criminal offence (a breach of the DWAA) that will result in fines, possible confiscation/destruction of the animal (especially if it is listed by CITES and the owner cannot prove how s/he obtained it or the accommodation is deemed inadequate). Owners of imported F2 Savannah hybrids will probably have to provide evidence that the cat is 2 generations removed from the wild ancestor otherwise a local authority will err on the safe side and treat it as an F1 hybrid.
The following, and their F1 hybrids with domestic cats (where possible), all require a licence and special accommodation under the terms of the DWAA.
And any hybrid between the cats listed e.g. [lion x tiger] (liger), [leopard x lion] (leopon), [lion x [jaguar x leopard]] (lijagulep).
WHAT ABOUT WILDCATS AND HYBRIDS NOT LISTED ON THE SCHEDULE?
Any wildcat not named as an excepted species will require a licence (unles the Secretary of State amends the list to include it in the exceptions). This affects foundation cats used in some popular hybrid-derived breeds. The DWAA was written in 1976 before Asian Leopard Cat hybrids (Bengal breed), Jungle Cat hybrids (Chausie breed) and Margay hybrids (Bristol and Bengal breeds) were used in creating new domestic cat breeds. These wildcats still require a licence in order to keep them as do F1 hybrids between these and domestic cats. Although the Jungle Cat is restricted, Jungle Cats have been found in the wild in the UK. These may have been illegally owned or may represent a small wild population of this species descended from earlier escapees.
As previously mentioned, some local authorities attempted to impose the DWAA on Bengal cats, but the DWAA has now been updated so that the F2 and later hybrids of a non-excepted wildcat with a domestic do not require a licence. Non-excepted species are sometimes captured in the wild (and in urban gardens) which means some wildcats are being kept in Britain illegally.
LICENSING WILDCATS AND THEIR HYBRIDS IN BRITAIN
The overseas reader must note that this legislation covers England, Wales and Scotland, but does not apply to Northern Ireland or the Irish Republic (ROI).
A licence is only granted when the local authority is satisfied that it is not against the public interest in respect of safety or nuisance and that the wild cat/hybrid's accommodation is adequate and secure. In general this means zoo-style accommodation with a double fence and either very tall fences with an overhang or a wired-over roof to the enclosure.
The local authority will probably impose additional conditions on the licence (if it grants a licence). Typically these are:
In 2007, DEFRA (Dept for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) clarified the position of the Bengal cat and the Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976 as follows:
The ‘Bengal cat’ is not a true species but a hybrid of the domestic cat crossed with the Asian leopard cat. They are several generations removed from the wild ancestor, and currently kept in their thousands in the UK without serious problems arising. It was not specifically named on earlier versions of the Schedule but it technically fell within the catch-all listing of all species of Felidae (ie the cat family) except Felis catus, the domestic cat. Its effective inclusion in the list partly arose because the Schedule pre-dated the breeding of these animals in this country. Other cat hybrids also fell within the catch-all listing for Felidae.
We sought to clarify the position for domestic cat x wild cat hybrids generally within the revised Schedule (which came into force on 1 October 2007). Cat hybrids no longer require a licence if they are:
Local authorities responsible for licensing and enforcement previously exercised their discretion in respect of Bengal cats. Most regarded them as normal domestic cats not subject to licensing. A few interpreted the act (as it was worded at the time) that F2, F3 and later generation Bengals required a DWAA licence. The 2007 revised Schedule clarified the situation. If owners are still in doubt as to whether a hybrid requires licensing, they should contact local authorities for advice.
The DWAA was further amended in March 2010 so that new licences were effective immediately upon being granted (not on the following day) and the validity of a licence being extended changed from a maximum of one year to two years
THE DANGEROUS WILD ANIMALS ACT IN LAYMAN'S TERMS
This is a simplified overview intended as a "primer". If you intend to keep a wildcat or hybrid in Britain, you must refer to the DWAA in its original legal wording (it is recommended you also check CITES restrictions on the species).
SECTION 1. LICENCES
(1) Except for exemptions listed in section (5) of the DWAA, no-one may keep any dangerous wild animal unless they are granted a DWAA licence by a local authority. The exemptions are zoos that are licensed according to the Zoo Licensing Act; circuses that keep performing wild animals (this may be changing in 2012); pet shops licensed under the Pet Animals Act 1951 and designated establishments (laboratories) under the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986.
(2) To grant a licence, the application to the local authority must include the following information:
(a) how many animals of each species (there may be several species on a licence) the applicant wishes to keep;
(b) where those animals will normally be held ("normally" is used because they may need to be temporarily housed elsewhere e.g. at another premises to be bred, or in alternative emergency accommodation after fire/flood/etc);
(c) the premises where they will be held is under the is under the remit of the local authority processing the application;
(d) the applicant must be aged 18 or over and not previously disqualified from keeping any dangerous wild animal (as defined by the DWAA);
(e) a fee payable to the local authority to covers the cost of inspecting the premises and processing the application.
(3)A local authority won't grant a DWAA licence unless it is satisfied that
(a) it is not contrary to the public interest i,e. doesn't cause safety issues or nuisance (noise, smell etc);
(b) the applicant is a suitable person to hold a licence under the DWAA;
(c) the animal(s) concerned will always be kept only under the authority of the licence i.e.
(4) A local authority won't grant a licence unless the application for it is made by the person who both owns and possesses, or proposes both to own and to possess, the animal(s) concerned. The local authority can use discretion in exceptional circumstances. In English law, the terms "own" and "possess" have different legal meanings, for example a person may physically possess an animal that legal belongs to a different owner (e.g. where a breeding animal moves to another licensed premises on loan).
(5) A local authority won't grant a DWAA licence unless a veterinarian (one selected and authorised by that local authority) has inspected the premises where any animal will normally be held and reports in writing that the premises are suitable and meet the conditions of the DWAA. The veterinarian will describe the condition of the premises and the condition of any animal(s) or things found there.
(6) Subject to subsections (2) to (5) of the DWAA, a local authority will either grant or refuse a licence. If the licence is granted, it will specify conditions:
(a) any animal(s) concerned must be kept only under the authority of the DWAA licence. That means
(i) it can only be kept by the person(s) specified in the licence (this will be by name or by description, for example a privately run wildcat rescue shelter, or a wealthy individual, may employ a "head keeper" or "warden" and the role will stay the same even if the person who does it changes);
(ii) the animal(s) shall normally be held at the premises as are specified in the licence; (iii) the animal(s) shall not be moved from those premises or shall only be moved from them in such circumstances as are specified in the licence (e.g. to go to a vet or to be moved to alternative licenced accommodation e.g. if sold to someone else);
(iv) the person to whom the licence is granted must have a current insurance policy which insures the person(s) that own and/or possess the animal(s) against liability for any damage that may be caused by the animal; and
(v)the terms of the insurance policy must satisfy the local authority (for example, in rural areas livestock may be at risk if a wildcat somehow escapes; in a town an escaped wildcat could harm neighbours or cause a traffic accident);
The licence specifies
(b) conditions restricting the species (whether one or more) of animal, and number of animals of each species;
(c) the person who is granted the licence must (within reason) make a copy available to any person entitled to keep any animal under the authority of the licence (this applies if one person owns the animal, but it is cared for by an employee);
(d) other conditions relating to the suitability of accommodation;
(7) Subject to subsection (6), a local authority may specify other conditions it thinks fit. It is common for a local authority to insist on microchipping the animal(s) and registering them with the microchip company. Should an animal escape (e.g. vandalism, burglary or severe storms damage the enclosure), a microchip helps reunite it with the owner, who would not be fined in these instance. Microchips help track animals that are legitimately traded and/or relocated or are reported stolen and are later recovered from other premises.
(8) Where a local authority proposes to include a provision that the animal(s) may spend a continuous period exceeding 72 hours, at premises outside the area of the authority, the authority granting the licence must consult the local authority in whose area those other premises are situated (this applies where a breeding animal goes on loan or where an animal spends time at a vet surgery outside of the area).
(9) The local authority may at any time vary the licence: specify new conditions, amending or revoking existing conditions of it. It can't revoke conditions specified in subsection (6). It can't vary conditions specified in paragraph (6)(a)(ii) of that subsection may not be varied.
(10)Where a local authority varies a licence under subsection (9)
(a) if the variation was requested by the person to whom the licence was granted, the variation takes effect immediately the authority decides to make it;
(b) otherwise, the variation takes effect when the person to whom the licence was granted has been made aware of the variation and has had reasonable time to comply with the change.
SECTION 2 SUPPLEMENTARY PROVISIONS (REFUSAL, APPEAL, CONTRAVENTION, REVOCATION)
(a) a person's application is refused and they object to not being granted a licence or
(b) the person objects to a condition of the licence, or by the variation or revocation of a condition of the licence,
s/he may appeal to a magistrates’ court (or, in Scotland, to the Sheriff). The magistrates' court (or Sheriff) may give such directions (in line with the DWAA) regarding the granting of a licence or with the conditions of the licence. Sometimes the applicant believes they have complied with all necessary conditions in order to get a licence, so this higher authority needs to provide clarification on the finer details. At the end of the appeal, the licence might still be refused, but the applicant should have a better idea of why!
(2) A DWAA licence shall (depending on the applicant’s requirements) relate to the calendar year in which it is granted (The DWAA was amended in March 2010 and new licences coming into force immediately upon being granted, not the day after) or to the next following year (coming into force at the start of the following year).
(3) Subject to the provisions regarding "cancellation" a DWAA licence remains in force until the end of the year to which it relates and shall then expire (The DWAA was amended in March 2010 the validity of a licence was extended from a maximum of one year to two years). If application is made for a further licence before expiry date, the licence shall be deemed to be still in force pending the grant or refusal of the renewal application. If a renewal is granted the new licence commences from date the last licence expires.
(4) In the event of the death of the person to whom a DWAA licence has been granted, the licence is valid for twenty-eight days as if it had been granted to the personal representatives of the deceased. If application is made for a new licence within the 28 day period, the last licence shall be deemed to be still in force pending the grant or refusal of that application. This is a common-sense measure!
(5)Any person who contravenes the provisions of section 1(1) of the DWAA is guilty of an offence.
(6) If any condition of the DWAA licence is contravened or not complied with, then,
(a) the person to whom the licence was granted, and
(b) any other person who is entitled to keep any animal under the authority of the licence and who was primarily responsible for the contravention or failure to comply (i.e. a keeper or warden employed by the licence-holder),
is guilty of an offence. However this is subject to the next paragraph:.
(7) If a person(s) is/are charged with an offence (as per (6) above) it shall be a defence if the person(s) to prove that he/they took all reasonable precautions and exercised all due diligence to avoid an offence. Again, this is common sense. There have been cases where burglars have broken into properties and stolen or released the animal(s) which are later recaptured/recovered. This would not be the fault of the licence-holder who has taken reasonable precautions against the animal(s) escaping, but who could not anticipate an intruder armed with bolt-cutters.
(8) Where "magistrates' court" is references, the "sheriff" shall be substituted for cases in Scotland.
SECTION 3: INSPECTION BY LOCAL AUTHORITY.
(1) A local may authorise in writing any veterinarian (or such other person deemed competent) to inspect any premises that are subject to a DWAA licence application or have previously been granted a licence. The veterinarian (or competent person) is authorised to enter and inspect the premises (and animal(s)) at any reasonable time to ascertain whether a licence should be granted or varied or whether an offence has been or is being committed against the DWAA.
With exotic animals, a specialist vet (a "zoo vet") may be needed. Sometimes the local authority might want to call upon zookeepers for an expert opinion (if there is a zoo in the same area).
(2) A local authority can only give an authority to inspect premises situated outside its area with the approval of the local authority in whose area those premises are situated (this applies if an animal is to be moved for a period of time). This is because a local authority's jurisdiction only covers its own area.
(3) The local authority can charge the applicant/licence-holder the reasonable costs of the inspection. This is important to bear in mind if they call in experts from the local zoo - these people have to be paid for their time.
(4) Any person who wilfully obstructs or delays any person in the exercise of his power of entry or inspection under this section is guilty of an offence. If you want, or already hold, a DWAA licence, you should not have anything to hide. In some cases, the date proposed by the local authority might be inconvenient and there might be justifiable grounds to arrange an alternative date; for example an animal becomes ill (you may have to prove it is receiving vet care) or the animal has just given birth and mustn't be disturbed. This section is aimed at a person who stands in front of the gate with a shotgun and says "get off my land"!
SECTION 4 POWER TO SEIZE AND TO DISPOSE OF ANIMALS WITHOUT COMPENSATION.
(a) an animal is being kept contrary to section 1(1) of the DWAA (i.e. held without a licence when it should have a licence) or
(b) any condition of the DWAA licence is contravened or not complied with, the local authority in whose area the animal is currently held may seize the animal. This means the premises named on the licence. It also applies to animals moved into those premises from another area. The local authority can hold the animal, dispose of it or destroy it and are not liable to pay compensation to any person. This is important to know when buying, selling or moving animals that need a licence.
(2) If the local authority incurs any expenditure in seizing (and keeping, disposing of or destroying) the animal(s) it can recover its costs as a civil debt from the person who was the animal's keeper when it was seized. This is worded so it applies to licensed and unlicensed animals. This person it is seized from might not have a valid DWAA licence or they might not be the person named on the licence.
(3) If the local authority incurs any expenditure in seizing (and keeping, disposing of or destroying) the animal(s) it can recover its costs as a civil debt from the person who holds the DWAA licence for the animal. So not only does the person have their wildcat or wildcat hybrid confiscated, they also have to reimburse the local authority.
SECTION 5 EXEMPTIONS.
The DWAA does not apply to any dangerous wild animal kept in:
(1) a zoo as defined by the Zoo Licensing Act 1981 for which a licence is either in force or is not required under that act
(2) a circus (though this is changing so that circuses cannot have performing wild animals)
(3) premises licensed as a pet shop under the Pet Animals Act 1951
(4) a place which is a designated establishment within the meaning of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 i.e. laboratories.
All of these are covered by different legislation which have a different set of conditions. For example circus animals spend much of their time in trailers, being moved around the country. Animals in laboratories may, during experiments, be housed in accommodation that does not have their welfare in mind.
SECTION 6. PENALTIES AND OFFENCES UNDER OTHER ANIMAL LEGISLATION
(1) A person convicted of an offence under the DWAA is liable to a fine
(2) A person is convicted of an offence under the DWAA or convicted of any offence under the Protection of Animals Acts 1911 to 1964, the Protection of Animals (Scotland) Acts 1912 to 1964, the Pet Animals Act 1951, the Animal Boarding Establishments Act 1963, the Riding Establishments Acts 1964 and 1970, or the Breeding of Dogs Act 1973 may lose his DWAA licence (cancellation). Whether or not he holds a DWAA licence, he may also be disqualified from keeping any dangerous wild animal for such period as the court thinks fit.
(3) If a court orders the cancellation of a person’s licence, or disqualifies him from keeping dangerous wild animals, this order may be suspended pending an appeal.
SECTION 7. INTERPRETATION OF TERMS
Most of the terms in the DWAA are clear, but others have special definitions.
"Keeper" means the person normally in possession of the animal. This may be the owner or could be an employee. In a rescue shelter it would probably be the head warden who, for legal purposes, would receive reimbursement and therefore be considered an "employee" not a "volunteer". Some people are wealthy enough to have collections of wild animals on their land (but not be classed, in law, as a zoo) and might employee a keeper to care for the animals.
"Keeper" does not include a person who is temporarily holding the animal for the purpose of
(a) preventing it from causing damage,
(b) restoring it to its owner,
(c) providing veterinary treatment, or
(d) transporting it on behalf of another person.
“Circus” includes any place where animals are kept or introduced wholly or mainly for the purpose of performing tricks or manoeuvres;
“damage” includes the death or injury to any person (if an animal runs amok, a court might also decide it applies to damage to livestock)
“dangerous wild animal” means any animal specified in the first column of the Schedule to the DWAA. While individuals may argue that certain animals are or aren't dangerous, they must abide by the legal definition in the DWAA. Some animals are only dangerous in the wrong hands, but the legislation has to err on the side of caution.
“local authority” means in relation to England: a district council, a London borough council or the Common Council of the City of London. In relation to Wales, a county council or county borough council. In relation to Scotland, a council constituted under section 2 of the Local Government etc. (Scotland) Act 1994;
SECTION 8. POWER OF SECRETARY OF STATE TO MODIFY THE SCHEDULE.
The Secretary of State can modify the scope of the act to include animals not currently listed on the Schedule or to exclude animals that are currently listed. This must go through the proper Parliamentary process. When the DWAA originally became law, it could not foresee that cat breeders might want to keep Asian Leopard Cats or Jungle Cats as foundation breeding stock for the Bengal and Chausie breeds respectively. At present these wildcats and their F1 hybrids require DWAA licences.
SECTION 9. PROTECTION OF EXISTING KEEPERS
This only applied when the DWAA was introduced, but it remains part of the DWAA.
A person who immediately before the date the DWAA came into force was keeping a dangerous wild animal at any premises (and who was not disqualified from keeping the animal) had 90 days grace in which to either apply for a licence or dispose of the animal. He could continue to keep the animal on the premises until the licence was either granted or refused.
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