Under the Zoo Licensing Act 1981 any establishment where wild animals are kept for exhibition to the public for purposes other than a circus or a pet shop requires a licence from their local council. In order to issue the licence the council will inspect the premises and consult other local agencies such as police, fire and planning. The first licence is usually granted for four years.

How to apply

At least two months before placing an application with the us the potential zoo operator must provide in writing their intention to make an application. A copy of the appropriate form is available from our licensing service. At the same time a public notice must 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 with us for public comment.

Once this period of time has lapsed, an application form can be submitted along with the current application fee. Copies of this form can be obtained from us. The licence will be issued subject to compliance with the license conditions and payment of the fee.

Applicants should check the current licensing fee by contacting us. The applicant will also have to pay for the cost of the vet’s inspection. The application fee must accompany the application form. However you will be invoiced for the cost of the vet’s inspection after the inspection has been done.

Cheques should be made payable to East Devon District Council.

What happens next?

We will ask for comments from organisations including the police and fire service and from the public and relevant national institutions concerned with the operation of zoos in the UK (for example if aquatic zoo we will go to an aquatic zoo specialist).

Before granting or refusing a licence we will need to ask a vet appointed by the Secretary of State for his comments. An application may be refused if the zoo could affect the health and safety of people living in the neighbourhood due to a lack of controls being in place.

We may also refuse on the weight of public comment, if the operator/keeper has been convicted of an offence related to ill-treatment of animals, if planning permission has not been granted. If an application is refused, the operator will receive a written statement of the grounds for refusal.

An annual stock list must be provided along with any updated escape precaution procedures.

Planning requirements

You will need to consider whether planning permission is required for the proposed licensed activity. Please contact our planning department to discuss whether permission is needed. Your application for a licence will not usually be processed until the planning issue has been decided.


Each original licence will run for four years. After that, renewals will run for six years. We will carry out inspections every year and an appointed vet will visit, at the very least, at the renewal stage (so, 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. If concerns are raised we can request an inspection by an appointed vet. All visits carried out by this person are paid for by the zoo operator.

Failure or late application for renewal may invalidate any public liability insurance for the premises.

Changes to the licence - for example name changes and ownership changes can be undertaken at the request of the operator - but a charge may be made for that. On the death of the holder of a licence, the personal representatives of the deceased are considered to be the holders during a three month period following the death, or longer with our approval.


Although the Secretary of State issues model conditions for zoo licences. However, additional conditions can be attached to the licence by us and in consultation with the appointed vet.

Power of entry

We can inspect your zoo premises with an appointed vet as long as we give you 28 days notice in writing.

Disqualifications and cancellations

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

  1. Consider inspectors' reports made following inspections of the zoo under this Act, or
  2. If no inspection of the zoo has been made under the Act, consult such persons on the list as the Secretary of State nominates for the purposes of this section.

We 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.

We may refuse to grant a licence for a zoo if we 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.

We may also refuse to grant a licence if -

  1. The applicant, or
  2. (Where the applicant is a body corporate) the body or any director, manager, secretary or other similar officer of the body, or
  3. Any person employed as a keeper in the zoo, has been convicted of an offence under this Act or under any of the enactments mentioned in subsection (5) or of any other offence involving the ill-treatment of animals.

The enactments are -

The Protection of Animals Acts 1911 to 1964;

The Protection of Animals (Scotland) Acts 1912 to 1964;

The Pet Animals Act 1951;

The Protection of Birds Acts 1954 to 1967;

The Animal Boarding Establishments Act 1963;

The Riding Establishments Act 1964 and 1970;

The Breeding of Dogs Act 1973;

The Conservation of Wild Creatures and Wild Plants Act 1975;

The Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976;

The Endangered Species (Import and Export) Act 1976


  • Unlawful to operate a zoo without a licence
  • Offence not to comply, without reasonable excuse the conditions attached to the licence
  • Offence to intentionally obstruct an inspector


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.

Please note that the legislation was ratified in 1951 hence the reduced penalty costs which would be seen, in today's climate, as being minimal.


Circus - a place where animals are kept or introduced wholly or mainly for the purpose of performing tricks or manoeuvres at that place.

Wild Animals - animals not normally domesticated in Great Britain.


Requests for application forms can be made by telephoning: 01395 516551. Alternatively visit the zoo licensing pages on the Council’s website.

Contact details

For further information or to request an application form telephone: 01395 516551 or visit our contact us page.

Useful information available to applicants:

Copies of the Zoo Licensing Act 1981 and Zoo Licensing Act 1981 (Amendment) (England and Wales) Regulations 2002 and other legislation mentioned in this information sheet can be purchased from The Office of Public Sector Information (formerly HMSO).