Bushbabies sit in their cargo crate, scattered with droppings and food.

A positive list for animals in the EU and beyond



Proposing an EU-wide positive list: A solution to end the suffering of animals traded as pets.

In April, I attended the European Parliament in Brussels for the launch of a really exciting report from Eurogroup for Animals and Animal Advocacy & Protection (AAP) proposing an EU-wide positive list as a solution to end the suffering of animals traded as pets. 

Several EU countries have already adopted – or are in the process of adopting – a positive list as a solution to the harms causes by the trade in wild species kept as pets (the ‘exotic pet’ trade), including Belgium, Luxembourg, Cyprus, Malta, Italy, Lithuania, France, Slovenia, Spain and The Netherlands.  

Now, momentum is building for a positive list which covers the whole of the EU, harmonising the rules on the sale and keeping of wild species across all member states. 

So, what is a positive list? 

Traditionally, legislation which controls or restricts which kinds of animals you can buy, sell or keep outlines which species are NOT allowed. This approach can be thought of as a ‘negative list’ and is the kind of legislation we have here in the UK – for example, in England, Wales and Scotland we have the Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976 which sets out which species of animal you cannot keep, unless you have a special licence (animals such as big cats, wolves, alligators, bears etc).  

By contrast, a positive list is a piece of legislation which lists all the species of animal which people ARE allowed to buy, sell and keep in their households as pets. Any specie of animal which is not listed as part of the positive list is, by default, not allowed to be traded or kept (or in some circumstances, may only be sold or kept under special permit).  

A positive list can therefore be a very powerful tool to reduce and regulate the trade in wild species of animals sold as pets and address the harm this trade causes to animals, humans and the planet.   

Why does the trade in wild species kept as pets need regulating?  

Animals caught in the trade suffer throughout the entire supply chain, from captive breeding or wild capture, to transportation, handling, training, interaction with humans and a lifetime of captivity.  

The global trade in wildlife also threatens the survival of wild populations as animals can be taken from the wild to be bred or sold as a pet, as well as presenting a very real risk to human health. 72% of emerging zoonoses (infectious diseases that transfer from animals to humans) originate in wildlife, with many diseases associated with captive wild animals.

Escaped or abandoned animals entering non-native environments can also introduce invasive species and cause significant damage to local ecosystems.  

What are the benefits of a positive list over a negative list? 

Positive lists show significant advantages over negative lists in more effectively regulating the trade in wild species sold as pets because they are:  

  • Evidence-based: positive lists rely on scientific evidence assessed against strict criteria for determining which species are suitable to kept as pets 
  • Transparent: positive lists provide clarity to consumers and businesses in terms of which animals are allowed to be bought, sold and kept 
  • Proactive: positive lists prevent new trends in pet ownership from emerging whereas negative lists can only respond after a problem has already taken hold 
  • Easier to enforce: as well as making it clearer for consumers and businesses, positive lists also make it easier for law enforcement agencies to recognise illegal species and enforce the law 
  • Precautionary: in cases where there is not enough information (or conflicting information) as to whether a specie is or isn’t suitable to be kept as a pet, it is assumed that they are not suitable until scientifically proven otherwise.     
Snakes in small storing containers are piled high at the Doncaster Racecourse reptile market.

What about the UK? 

In the UK, the legislation in place to protect wild species kept as pets is piecemeal at best. There is legislation which prohibits or restricts the ownership of some species but nothing which is specifically designed to protect the welfare of these animals.  

The Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill included proposals for a licensing system for the keeping of primates as pets on welfare grounds but, unfortunately, the UK Government recently announced that they would not be progressing the bill.

This a strong example of why a positive list approach is beneficial for protecting the welfare of animals – it can be a long and arduous process to regulate the keeping of certain species even when there is near consensus (such as in the case of primates) that they are not suitable to be kept as pets.  

Overall, in the UK, the lack of protection in animal welfare regulations currently leaves animals in the trade at high risk of suffering and harm. More robust legislation is needed to monitor and regulate the trade of wild animal species kept as pets and positive lists are fast gaining traction as the most promising solution. Last year, following a comprehensive review of the ‘exotic pet’ trade in Scotland, the Scottish Animal Welfare Commission also recommended a positive list as the best solution.   

With your support, we will continue to work towards ending the exploitation of wild animal species by the pet trade across the globe.

Image credits: Hero image: World Animal Protection | Body image: Adam Gerrard / Daily Mirror

“A positive list can be a powerful tool to reduce and regulate the trade in wild species of animals sold as pets and address the harm this trade causes to animals, humans and the planet

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