Dangerous Animals On The Prowl

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The Law Of... escaping animals

Reports of a lion on the loose in Cornwall have come hot on the paws of a lynx escaping from Dartmoor Zoo. Thankfully, the latter situation was resolved without anybody getting hurt, but when dangerous animals do get out, where does the responsibility lie?

Provided they have a 'Dangerous Wild Animals' licence, people in the UK can own lions

Lisa Wright, a Personal Injury Lawyer specialising in animal injuries, examines the rise in dangerous animal ownership throughout the UK.

Dangerous Animals in the UK

Thanks to the tight security, protective fencing, and systems in place to deal with any such event, reports of animals escaping from British zoos are generally rare. However, zoos aren't the only places you might find dangerous animals you wouldn't ordinarily find living on these shores.

Provided they have a Dangerous Wild Animals licence from their local council, private owners and collectors in the UK are allowed to keep exotic animals such as lions and lynxes. One of the conditions of obtaining and keeping a hold of this licence is being able to demonstrate that the animal will be safely secured and represent no threat to the public whatsoever. You must also meet rigorous standards to ensure the animal's welfare, along with holding valid insurance to cover any damage it may cause to a third party.

Recent years have seen an increase in the number of dangerous animals being kept in private, with a Press Association Freedom of Information request to local councils revealing that there are currently 1000s in the UK.

These aren't just the more obvious breeds, such as lions, tigers and elephants, but include the likes of:

  • Tasmanian Devils
  • Assorted species of monkey
  • Venomous spiders, including those belonging to the Black widow family
  • Front fanged snakes, such as cobras, vipers and rattlesnakes
  • Wolves
  • Crocodiles and alligators
Lisa Wright comments:

"A dangerous animal is defined by the Animals Act 1971 as one that isn't commonly domesticated in the British Isles and when fully grown is likely to cause severe damage – or any damage it causes will be severe – unless restrained."

"Despite the best efforts of those responsible for looking after these animals, escapes from private collections do occur, as witnessed by the stories of wild cats roaming the moors and, if the reports prove to be true, the case of the Cornwall lion."

"Under Section 2 (1) of the aforementioned Animals Act, the keeper of the dangerous animal is liable under UK law if the animal gets out and causes injury or damage to a member of the public. This is regardless of whether it was the keeper or the owner who was at fault."

"Animal attacks can have serious and lasting consequences for the victim. That's why there are such strict laws regarding their ownership. Anybody who is wounded due to such an attack could be entitled to make a personal injury claim against the party responsible, which, dependent upon the extent of their injuries, can result in significant compensation."


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