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Zoo licence

​​​The Zoo Licensing Act 1981 requires the inspection and licensing of all zoos in Great Britain. It aims to ensure that, where animals are kept in enclosures, they are provided with a suitable environment to provide an opportunity to express most normal behaviour.

Responsibility for the day-to-day operation of the licensing system and the administration of the Act rest with us (Environmental Health). However, Central Government does have a role. The secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural affairs has a responsibility for maintaining a list of zoo inspectors and for setting detailed standards for zoo management with which zoos are expected to comply (the Secretary of State’s Standards of Modern Zoo Practice).

A zoo is defined in the act 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, on more than seven dates in any period of 12 consecutive months'.

The wide scope of this definition means that licensed zoos range from traditional urban zoos and safari parks to small specialist collections such as butterfly houses and aquaria. The Act recognises this wide range of establishments by allowing dispensations to be granted for small zoos. Dispensations for these types of collection reduce the number of inspectors to a reasonable level for a small establishment and do not in any way weaken a zoo's obligation to achieve the levels of animal's welfare and modern public safety set out in the Secretary of State's standards.

The act does not extend to circuses, or to pet shops, both of which are covered by other legislation.

Eligibility criteria

Licenses will not be issues to anyone who 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 M1Pet Animals Act 1951
  • The M2Animal Boarding Establishments Act 1963
  • The Riding Establishments Acts 1964 and 1970
  • The M3Breeding of Dogs Act 1973
  • The M4Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976
  • The M5Endangered Species (Import and Export) Act 1976

​Will tacit consent apply?

No. It is in the public interest that we must process your application before it can be granted. If you have not heard from us within a reasonable period, please contact us using the contact details provided.

Apply for a licence

To apply for a licence contact the licensing service.

Failed application redress

Please contact your us (Environmental Health) in the first instance.  Any applicant who is refused a licence can appeal to their local Magistrates' court.

Licence holder redress

Please contact us (Environmental Health) in the first instance.  Any licence holder who wishes to appeal against a condition attached to their licence can appeal to their local Magistrates' court.


0300 303 8871

Phone: Monday-Friday 8.30am-5.30pm.
Closed for training Monday 11am-11.30am.

Public Protection Service​​
Number One Riversid​e​
Smith Street
Rochdale OL16 1XU