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Zoo Licensing

A Zoo licence from the Council is needed if wild animals are exhibited to the general public on more than seven days in any 12 consecutive months

A "zoo" is defined as "an establishment where wild animals are kept for exhibition to the public" (save for a circus and pet shop). 

Zoo Licensing Act 1981

Under s1 of the Zoo Licensing Act 1981 it is unlawful to operate a zoo (to which the Act applies) except under the authority of a licence issued under this Act.

A "zoo" is defined as "an establishment where wild animals are kept for exhibition to the public" (save for a circus and pet shop). The Act defines "wild animals" as "Mammalia, Aves, Reptilia, Amphibia, Pisces and Insecta" which covers all multi- cellular organisms that are not a plant or fungus. To be considered "wild" for the purposes of the Act, the animal has to be one not normally domesticated in Great Britain. The DEFRA Guide provides some guidance on what animals will be considered "wild". It is best to consider those that fall outside this definition are limited to animals such as horses, cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, ferrets, rabbits, pigeons/doves, chickens, turkeys, geese, ducks, guinea pigs, hamsters, gerbils, rats, mice, chinchillas, alpacas, llamas, budgies, canaries, and other domesticated birds and fish.

For a zoo to fall within the remit of the Act it has to be open to the public, with or without a charge, for seven or more days in any year. There are exemptions available for some small zoos from some or all of the requirements of the Act.

All zoos are required by the Act to undertake "conservation measures". These are listed below. Zoos must carry out one of these:

  • Research from which conservation benefits accrue to species of wild animals;
  • Training in relevant conservation skills;
  • Exchange of information relating to the conservation of species of wild animals;
  • Where appropriate breeding of wild animals in captivity;
  • Where appropriate the repopulation of an area with, or the introduction into the wild of, wild animals;

Zoos must also carry out all of the following:

  • Promoting public educations and awareness of biodiversity
  • Accommodating their animals under conditions which aim to satisfy the biological and conservation requirements of the species
  • Preventing the escape of animals
  • Preventing the intrusion of pests and vermin into the zoo premises
  • Keeping up to date records of the zoo's collection.

The Council will attach conditions to the licence to reflect these requirements.

View a summary of regulations relating to this licence

Who needs a Licence

You must have a zoo licence to run a zoo if your zoo is open to the public on 7 or more days in a 12-month period.

A zoo is any establishment where wild animals are exhibited to the public, apart from circuses and pet shops.

Wild animals are any animals that aren't normally domesticated in Great Britain, eg camels, ostriches.

Some zoos don't need a licence because of the small number of animals, or the type of animal, kept in them. This is known as having a 'dispensation'.

You might not have to get a licence depending on your situation. The Secretary of State will make a decision on a case-by-case basis. Usually both of the following must apply to your situation:

  • very small zoos (eg zoos that have no more than around 120 animals)
  • zoos that don't have many different kinds of animals, eg deer parks

The Secretary of State will also decide if the animals are hazardous or conservation sensitive.

Those operating under the authority of a pet shop licence or as part of a circus do not need to be licenced.

If you believe your collection may qualify for an exemption, you must still contact to put your case to The Secretary of State to grant a dispensation.

Applying for a Licence

We aim to process all applications within 90 days, therefore:

  • existing licence holders will need to apply to renew their licences at least 90 days before the expiry date of their existing licence in order to ensure continuity of cover
  • new applicants will need to apply for a licence at least 90 days before they plan to operate their business

In order for an application to be considered complete, a valid application form and fee must have been received.

The process for applying requires an applicant to submit to the Council a written notice of intention to apply for a zoo licence. This notice must be served at least two months' before an application is submitted. In this notice there must be a statement setting out how the applicant intends to meet the conservation requirements. As part of the notification process, the applicant must also publish a notice of intention in one local and one national newspaper. The applicant must also display a copy of the published notice at the zoo premises. The Council must make the notice of intention available for inspection at the Council Offices free of charge during reasonable hours.

There is no duty to consult within the Act; however, the Council must consider the representations made by:

  • The applicant;
  • The Police Constabulary;
  • The Fire Authority;
  • National institution governing zoos - Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA);
  • Where the zoo is partly in another area that area's planning authority;
  • Any person alleging that the establishment or continuance of the zoo would injuriously affect the health or safety of persons living in the neighbourhood of the zoo;
  • Any other person whose representations might in the opinion of the Council show grounds on which the authority has a power or duty to refuse to grant a licence.

An initial licence lasts for four years and is renewable, with subsequent licences lasting six years.

Zoo Application Form 


Application typeFee
New Application£390.00
Renewal Application£390.00
Special Inspection£293.00
Periodic Inspection£390.00

In addition to the above there will be a charge for DEFRA/Nominated Inspectors. 

Summary of Regulations

The licensing of a zoo is a specialist field and the regulations are quite complex. Whilst we are responsible for licensing zoos we are supported by DEFRA who maintain a list of nominated zoo inspectors. If a person intends to apply for a licence, he/she is advised to contact us to discuss any proposals.

A fee must be paid to cover the cost of administration, inspection and enforcement activity.

Licences are granted for an initial period of 4 years and renewed at 6 year intervals.


Zoos are inspected before and after a licence is granted. 

Before you can get a licence, your zoo will have a Formal Inspection as part of your licence application.

If you get a licence, your zoo will be inspected at least once a year.

All premises will be inspected before the licence is granted. The inspector will be looking to make sure the applicant has the following:

  • specialist knowledge in the species that they are caring for and a clear understanding of its needs and welfare (including the animals' mental and physical health, feeding and knowledge of environmental enrichment)
  • comprehensive records that contain all the information required by the conditions that apply to their particular activities
  • an understanding of risks involved in caring for the animal, including an extensive risk assessment and written policies and procedures that are reviewed regularly
  • training procedures in place to make sure staff know what is expected of them and clear evidence of good supervision of staff
  • the premises itself will also be assessed against the national standards relating to the physical environment in which the animals will be kept.

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