Zoos are regulated by local authorities under the Zoo Licensing Act 1981|External link .

The Act defines a zoo

"[as] an establishment where wild animals are kept for exhibition to the public otherwise than for the purposes of a circus and otherwise than as a pet shop; and this Act applies to any zoo to which members of the public have access, with or without charge for admission, on more than seven days in any period of 12 consecutive months".

We work in close partnership with the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) on all aspects of zoo licensing.

Licensing of Zoos

Before granting or refusing to grant a licence for a zoo, the authority shall:

The local authority will refuse to grant a licence for a zoo if they are satisfied that the establishment or continuance of the zoo would injuriously affect the health or safety of persons living in the neighbourhood of the zoo, or seriously affect the preservation of law and order.

The local authority may refuse to grant a licence for a zoo if they are not satisfied that the standards of accommodation, staffing or management are adequate for the proper care and wellbeing of the animals or any of them or otherwise for the proper conduct of the zoo.

They may also refuse to grant a licence if:

The enactments are -

Each original licence will run for four years, consecutive renewals will run for six years. Failure or late application for renewal may invalidate any public liability insurance for the premises.

Changes to the licence i.e. name changes, ownership changes can be undertaken at the request of the operator, however a charge may be required. A licence can be transferred to another person with the approval of the local authority. On the death of the holder of a licence, 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.

For small zoos or for a zoo exhibiting only a small number of different kinds of animals the Secretary of State has powers to relax the requirements of the Act. The local authority can seek a direction that the Act shall not apply at all (Section 14(1)(a)) or that certain category of inspection is not required (Section 14(1)(b)).

Alternatively, the zoo operator, on applying to the Secretary of State for a zoo licence, may be granted a dispensation (Section 14(2)) to reduce the number of inspectors to a reasonable level for a small establishment. This doesn't reduce the zoo's obligation to achieve the levels of animal welfare and public safety set out in the Secretary of State's Standards.

Where a licence is granted, that licence and any subsequent licence will expire on the 31st December of the year to which it relates and must be renewed before that date if the premises are to continue as an animal boarding establishment.


The Zoo Licensing Act 1981 specifies conservation measures that must be undertaken by the zoo. The licence will contain appropriate conditions with regard to these measures and the Secretary of State issues model conditions for zoo licences. The local authority also has discretion to attach any condition(s) deemed necessary or desirable for the proper conduct of the zoo. The Secretary of State issues guidance of standards of practice that zoos should meet which apply in England. The Secretary of State's Standards of Modern Zoo Practice|External link can be downloaded from DEFRA.

Offences and penalties

It is:

Maximum penalties, on summary conviction, may lead to a fine not exceeding £500 for obstruction, and £200 for unlawful operation or non-compliance with conditions.

Last Updated: 08/03/2016