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Zoo licence

A zoo is defined as being:

  • an establishment where wild animals are kept for exhibition
  • to which members of the public have access
  • with or without charge for admission
  • seven or more days in any period of 12 consecutive months

The wide scope of this definition means that licensed zoos range from:

  • traditional urban zoos
  • safari parks

to small specialist collections such as:

  • butterfly houses
  • and aquaria

The Zoo Licensing Act 1981 requires the inspection and licensing of all zoos. The act aims to ensure that where animals are kept in enclosures, they are provided with a suitable environment.

DEFRA (Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) has set out specific conditions for zoos on GOV.UK which need to be followed. This also includes details of what records you need to keep. Supplementary guidance is also available in the zoos experts committee handbook.

You may require planning permission to operate as a zoo and it is recommended to see if this is required before applying for your licence.


For new applications, at least two months prior to placing an application, you must provide in writing your notice of intention to operate a zoo. A published notice must also be placed in a locally circulating newspaper as well as a national newspaper. A copy of this notice must also be placed at the site for easy viewing and for public comment.

We may request representations from the:

  • police authority
  • fire service authority
  • public objections
  • a national institution concerned with the operation of zoos in the UK, for example for an aquatic zoo, go to an aquatic zoo specialist
  • other person(s) whose representations might be relevant can also be consulted

You will need to supply the following with your notice of intention:

  • species name (scientific and common name)
  • numbers of males and number of females
  • IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) status
  • reason the species are kept, for example available and affordable, contributing to conservation actions, breeding, housing confiscated animals from port security or private owners, personal interests in the species
  • species the zoo wishes to acquire within the next six years (if any)
  • national and local newspaper where an intention notice has been published
  • evidence that you have exhibited a notice at the proposed site
  • approximate staff to be employed by the zoo and job titles
  • map of existing site including access points to the site
  • map of proposed zoo
  • development plan, showing any planning, building and development plans of the animal enclosures
  • we will need copies of all operational procedures relating to the management of the facilities, include schedules and procedures specific to the management of cleaning, exercise, enrichment, feeding, transportation, noise reduction and for the safety and the security of the animals
  • a full description of the establishment utilities including the heating and ventilation methods as specified in the DEFRA guidance
  • copies of the training plan and qualifications from all staff including yourself
  • current copy of your Public Liability Insurance (With a minimum cover of £5 million)
  • full copy of your operational emergency response plan - (a written emergency plan in case of fire or in case of breakdowns for essential heating, ventilation and aeration or filtration systems or other emergencies)
  • disease control and prevention plan procedure
  • preventive healthcare plan - (a preventative healthcare plan agreed with the veterinarian with whom the licence holder has registered)
  • death or escape of an animal procedure - (including the storage of dead animals)
  • a copy of your healthcare plan as agreed by your registered vet
  • copies of your death and escape procedures (including the storage of dead animals)
  • a copy of your disease control and prevention procedure
  • your activities to implement the conservation measures from Section 1A of Zoo Licensing Act (1981)

If relevant:

  • arrangements for access to anti-venoms
  • the name of users, firearm licences, storage, security measures and training plan.


    What happens next

    Once we receive your notice we will contact you two months after to ask you if any of the details about the zoo have changed. We will then make arrangements to carry out the inspection.


    An inspection is carried out by a Secretary of State appointed inspector, local authority inspector and veterinarian who will produce a report of their findings. Based on the report and other considerations we will grant or refuse to grant a licence. You will receive a written statement of
    the grounds for any refusal.

    Periodic inspections, with Secretary of State appointed inspectors, occur as a minimum at renewal stage. For example, within the six months leading to the expiry date and in the first year of the original licence and in the third year of the six-year period of a renewal.

    We can request a special inspection where there are concerns. In any calendar year when no other inspection has taken place, an informal inspection is carried out by an appointed person.

    Renew my licence

    The first time you renew your licence will be after four years. You need to renew your licence six months before your current one expires.

    You will need to supply all supporting documents with the renewal, apart from the notices that you placed in the local newspaper and at the premises when first applying.

    Your licence will then be issued for six years and we will carry out three more formal inspections of the zoo during that time. You will then need to renew your licence every six years.


    Make changes to my licence

    If you need to make changes to your licence, you will need to make a variation to your licence.

    You will also need to include supporting documents with your application, if you have made changes to:

    • your animal collection
    • your insurance
    • your certification or the certification of your staff
    • the layout of the premises
    • your legal name

    If you are not sure if you need to tell us about a change, please email us.

    Transferring a licence

    If you want to transfer your licence to someone else, you will need to complete the transfer of a licence form.

    If the holder of the licence has passed away, the personal representatives of the deceased are deemed to be the holders of the licence for a period of three months after the death, or longer if we approve. A longer period may be necessary as probate or letters of administration can take longer than three months to secure.


    Licence fees

    Number of animalsApplicationRenewal
    Single species £530 £440
    2-10 species £720 £630
    10 or more £1,220 £1,130

    Variations and transfers of licences cost £130.