A zoo licence is needed if wild animals are exhibited to the general public on seven or more days in any 12 consecutive months.
There are exemptions for circuses, pet shops and any some individual premises.
These documents provide guidance:
- Zoo Licensing Act 1981 Guide to the Act’s provisions
- Secretary of State’s Standards of Modern Zoo Practice
Applying for a license
If you're thinking of setting up a zoo, contact us first for advice. We need at least two months' notice. A formal notification is also required. The notice given must include certain information and requires notices to be published in at least one local and one national newspaper.
An application can then be submitted along with payment of the correct fee.
To get a licence your zoo must:
- help educate people about biodiversity
- be suitable for the types of animals you’re keeping
- have a high standard of animal care
- do as much as possible to stop any animals escaping
- stop pests and vermin getting into the zoo
You must also do at least one of the following:
- conservation research or training
- sharing conservation information
- captive animal breeding
- helping repopulate or reintroduce species into the wild
You can provide notification or apply for a licence online here.
Applicants should contact the planning department to discuss whether planning permission will be needed. We may refuse or defer a decision on a licence application until the planning issue has been decided.
Before granting or refusing a licence, we will:
- Make arrangements for an inspection to be carried out (At least 28 days' notice of the inspection will be provided)
- Consider any inspectors' reports based on the inspection of the zoo
- Consult the applicant about any conditions they propose should be attached to the licence
Applications to renew a licence will be considered no later than six months before the expiry of the existing licence, unless we allow a shorter time period.
Each original licence will run for four years. Consecutive renewals will run for six years.
Changes to the licence, such as name change and ownership changes, can be undertaken but there may be a charge.
A licence can be transferred to another person with our approval. On the death of the licence holder, the personal representatives of the deceased are deemed to be the holders during a three-month period following the death, or longer with our approval.
Bearing in mind the complexity of the licensing process, it's not possible to provide an exact time period for the granting or refusal of a licence. Timescales will vary, depending on the size and nature of each application.
Comments from the consultation period and from the inspectors' report may vary widely, and some applications may need to go before the licensing committee.
We won't grant the licence if we feel that the zoo would adversely affect the health or safety of people living near it, seriously affect the preservation of law and order, or if we're not satisfied that appropriate conservation measures would be satisfactorily implemented.
An application may also be refused if:
- We're not satisfied that accommodation, staffing or management standards are suitable for the proper care and wellbeing of the animals or for the proper conduct of the zoo
- The applicant, the company or any of the company's directors, managers, secretaries or other similar officers, or a keeper in the zoo, has been convicted of any offence involving the ill-treatment of animals
The Secretary of State may direct us to attach one or more conditions to a licence.
A licence holder may appeal to the magistrates' court against:
- Any condition attached to a licence or any variation or cancellation of a condition
- The refusal to approve the transfer of a licence
- A zoo closure direction
- Enforcement steps relating to any unmet condition
The appeal must be brought within 28 days of receiving written notification of our decision.
More information is available from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs website.