On 14th December 2023, the UK Government introduced a new bill in parliament that could reduce the number of primates kept as pets in Great Britain, instead of banning them. Despite the Government’s pledge to ban the keeping of primates as pets, the legislation will set instead a licensing scheme that allows people to continue keeping them, but under stricter rules to ensure that only private keepers who can provide the highest welfare standards will be able to keep primates. This announcement follows a consultation earlier this year on the introduction of the licensing regime as well as the primate-keeping welfare standards.

It is estimated that up to 5,000 primates are kept as pets in the UK, but it is not sure that, if the new law is passed (which is likely as it has been introduced by the government and is unlikely to be opposed by the Labour Party), this number will be reduced. According to the government, under the changes, introduced via secondary legislation under the Animal Welfare Act 2006, from 2026 it will no longer be possible to keep primates in domestic settings as household pets in environments that fail to provide for their needs (although it seems the current legislation already prohibits this). According to the government, guidance will be provided to local authorities on how to measure the new standards at inspections to ensure that the three-year licence will only be given to those who can maintain the highest level of welfare.

Douglas-Miller, Animal Welfare Minister, surprisingly said, “Primates are intelligent and curious animals and we’re delivering on our pledge to ban the keeping of these inquisitive creatures as pets. It is already an offence under the Animal Welfare Act to keep a primate while not providing for their welfare needs or to cause them unnecessary suffering, and these plans will tighten the rules further. We have consistently led the world in raising the bar for animal welfare standards and this legislation is yet another step.”

In a statement, the Born Free Foundation said, “Born Free welcomes legislation restricting the private keeping of primates. Nevertheless, we are extremely concerned by the introduction of a licensing system rather than a complete ban. There is no justifiable reason why the private keeping, breeding and commercial trade in primates should continue. We fear that allowing such actions to continue under licence will not significantly reduce the number of primates kept privately.”

Jordi Casamitjana
“Originally from Catalonia, but resident in the UK for several decades, Jordi is a vegan zoologist and author, who has been involved in different aspects of animal protection for many years. In addition to scientific research, he has worked mostly as an undercover investigator, animal welfare consultant, and animal protection campaigner. He has been an ethical vegan since 2002, and in 2020 he secured the legal protection of all ethical vegans in Great Britain from discrimination in a landmark employment tribunal case that was discussed all over the world. He is also the author of the book, ‘Ethical Vegan: a personal and political journey to change the world’.