Mountain lions, alligators and zebras are just some of the nearly 2,500 “dangerous wild animals” kept by private collectors in England, according to a study of permit data from the council.
The list includes Bactrian camels in Sedgemoor, gray wolves in West Berkshire, honey badgers in Cornwall and deadly snakes in Bolsover.
The survey found that Buckinghamshire’s council area leads the country, with 325 recorded dangerous wildlife, including blackbuck antelope, capuchin monkeys, lemurs and ostriches.
The West Oxfordshire County Council, licensed for 200 exotic animals, came in second — with the grand total including animals at Heythrop Zoological Gardens, an unlicensed zoo run by ex-circus trainer Jim Clubb, which rents out animals including trained hippos, tigers and zebras for TV shows, movies and private parties.
Cornwall came in third, with 165 recorded dangerous wild animals – many of which belong to collector and conservationist Todd Dalton, who leads the Feral-Wild Animal Project, a menagerie that includes two sun bears and a wide variety of big cats.
There are 15 different species of exotic cats that are privately owned in Cornwall, including a cheetah, a mountain lion, a snow leopard and a striped hyena.
Cornwall has been dogged by rumors of stray big cats for decades, with reports centered around the northeastern area of Bodmin Moor.
Skeptics have ridiculed stories of the “Beast of Bodmin”, saying the climate and limited food supply would make maintaining a breeding population on the moors impossible. But a privately maintained population of big cats could provide a plausible explanation for such sightings.
Police across the country received 32 calls about big cat sightings in 2021, and last year Devon and Cornwall police recorded a sighting of a lynx in Helston.
England also has numerous bison farms, where the animals are raised for meat, with 105 of the North American beasts roaming the plains of Melton Mowbray in Leicestershire, 47 at Bush Farm in Warminster, Wiltshire, and another 40 on ranch in Durham.
Alligators are registered owners in South Gloucestershire, Hampshire, Hertfordshire, Lincolnshire, North Yorkshire and West Oxfordshire.
One of the world’s most dangerous arachnids, the brown recluse spider lives in Dacorum, in north-west Hertfordshire, with the one-inch-long spider capable of spreading necrotic bites that can destroy blood vessels, tissue and nerves.
Six king cobras — hooded vipers native to the South Asian jungle capable of killing an elephant with a single bite — have been recorded by owners in Bolsover, Dacorum, Dover, Hertsmere, Stroud and west Northamptonshire.
Several species of venom-spitting snakes, which can poison humans from up to 3 meters away, also slither around British vivaria, including the Mozambique-spitting cobra, which is registered by owners in Dover and Thanet and must be handled with safety goggles to avoid its flying cocktail of toxins that cause blindness.
Also known for their spitting, camels are another commonly kept pet. The research shows that six council areas – Melton, North Hertfordshire, North Northamptonshire, Sedgemoor, Staffordshire Moorlands and West Oxfordshire – are home to the two-humped species native to the steppes of central Asia.
Chris Lewis, of the Born Free Foundation, said: “I think most people would be shocked to learn that there are so many dangerous wild animals, including big cats, alligators and venomous snakes, kept by private individuals in the UK today.
“Legislation regulating the keeping of dangerous wild animals is now nearly 50 years old, conflicts with other animal laws and does not guarantee the welfare of animals kept under license.
“The intent of the Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976 was to make the private keeping of dangerous wild animals a wholly exceptional circumstance; however, the ongoing trend emphasizes just the opposite. Much larger and more current restrictions on the trade and keeping of wild animals as pets in the UK are needed.
“Any future legislation must fully consider whether the welfare needs of individual animals can be met, and owners must have the necessary qualifications and experience; a guarantee that trade does not endanger the conservation of species in the wild; take due account of potential environmental problems (such as the establishment of invasive species through escapes, the deliberate release of unwanted pets and the possible spread of zoonotic diseases); and confirmation that there is no risk to the wider health and safety of animals or humans.”