Ball pythons at a pet expo

Suffering in silence

Wildlife. Not pets.

Royal pythons and other reptiles sold as pets endure a lifetime of misery in captivity in the UK. The UK’s cruel trade in reptiles as pets is an animal welfare crisis.

Reptiles are sentient animals that can feel pleasure, distress, excitement, fear and pain, and they suffer greatly when kept as pets. 

Around 70% of those owned in the UK belong to just six species: bearded dragon, crested gecko, leopard gecko, corn snake, royal python and Hermann’s tortoise. 

These animals are often described as ‘beginner reptiles’, as they’re supposedly easy to care for. But even when bred in captivity, they’re still wild animals with complex needs that can’t be met in people’s homes. 

Watch now: Suffering in silence

Our shocking documentary charts the severe animal welfare concerns at every step of the royal python trade.

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Spotlight on royal pythons

Royal pythons, also known as ball pythons, are one of the most popular wild species kept as pets. These shy reptiles curl into a tight ball when stressed. In the wild they’re reclusive, sheltering in burrows during the day and sometimes climbing trees at night.

Yet in the pet trade, royal pythons are picked up, handled and subjected to incredible stress.

Our research into royal pythons shows just how damaging a life in captivity can be: 

  • Royal pythons are often kept in small, unstimulating enclosures where they can’t perform basic natural behaviours, like stretch to their full length.
  • If the temperature and humidity of their environment isn’t well managed, it can cause serious health issues, including neurological damage and blindness.
  • Captive snakes commonly become anorexic due to stress, or suffer burn injuries from heat lamps or stones.

Despite owners’ best intentions, royal pythons in captivity spend a lifetime in unnatural and stressful conditions. That’s why we urge people not to buy or breed them. 

The UK royal python trade

Most royal pythons sold in the UK are now bred in captivity, with imports numbering in the hundreds each year.

Our investigation found that:

  • At reptile markets, hundreds of royal pythons are kept in highly restrictive enclosures a fraction of the snake’s length.
  • They’re denied shelter to hide, despite their reclusive nature and stressful captive conditions.
  • Breeders house royal pythons in small plastic tubs with inadequate access to shelter, water, or substantial substrate for months or even years.
  • So-called designer ‘morphs’ selectively bred for their colour patterns can suffer genetic disorders and deformities.

Our campaigning has already helped stop a major reptile market in Doncaster, but the organisers have since moved the market to new locations. As long as this cruel trade continues, we’ll keep working to end it for good. 

The global royal python trade

Royal pythons are Africa’s most legally traded live animal. Over 45 years, more than three million royal pythons have been exported from Benin, Ghana and Togo to face a lifetime of misery as pets. 

Our report reveals: 

  • Cruel wild capture methods cause stress, disease, infection and death.
  • Royal pythons are farmed in West Africa in squalid conditions that create a lethal hotbed of disease.
  • Royal pythons in Europe and North America are captive bred and sold at reptile markets in conditions that fail to meet even their most basic needs.

Read the full report to find out more

Learn more

Wildlife. Not pets.


Millions of animals are suffering in captivity in homes across the UK. Royal pythons, bearded dragons, tree frogs, African grey parrots, sugar gliders and many more species have complex needs that can’t be met in our homes.

Wild species kept as pets: what are the facts?

Wildlife. Not pets.

We answer some frequently asked questions about the wild species as pet trade. At World Animal Protection, we believe that the only place wild animals can full lives is in their natural habitat: the wild.

Dolphin pod swimming in the wild

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