Lions, wolves and deadly venomous snakes are among thousands of dangerous animals being kept on private properties across the UK including Yorkshire, figures have revealed.
Big cats including 13 tigers, two lions, eight leopards, seven cheetahs and nine pumas are prowling behind the fences of addresses up and down the land, an investigation by the Press Association has found.
Hundreds of poisonous snakes are also being kept, including more than 300 killer cobras, vipers and rattlesnakes.
And lurking beneath the waters of domestic enclosures are 10 alligators, nine crocodiles and 17 caimans - a smaller member of the crocodile family.
Kirklees Council has awarded licences for one Asian leopard cat and five hybrid Asian leopard cats while Scarborough Borough Council licensed six camels and Sheffield City Council a dwarf caiman. In Wakefield, licences were issued for one rattlesnake, three cobras, one viper and eight ostriches.
More than 100 councils have given people licences to keep a host of deadly predators, with some keeping a variety of different species at their homes.
Animal welfare experts condemned the findings, saying it was “deeply concerned” at the numbers and that animal welfare was being put at risk.
The data was obtained from freedom of information (FOI) requests sent to every council in the UK, of which 363 replied. In Northern Ireland, the Environment Agency provided the figures for the whole country.
Dangerous wild animals (DWA) licences are granted by councils to allow people to keep undomesticated animals as pets, providing they have the requisite safety measures at their home and pay a small fee.
The unconventional menageries can be found in several major cities, including London, Swansea, Stoke, Sheffield, Hull and Portsmouth.
Among the more exotic areas is Cornwall, where the council has issued licences for pumas, lynxes, ocelots, lemurs, vipers, ostriches and an assortment of wild cats.
In Central Bedfordshire, meanwhile, wolves, alligators, caimans, black widow spiders, venomous snakes and short-clawed otters are being kept.
Among the most popular dangerous pets are lemurs, a small monkey, 115 of which are kept in domestic settings, while smaller cats, which are often crosses between domestic and larger wild cats, such as Savannahs, are also in high demand.
For those who prefer canine company, wolves are allowed under DWA licences, with 15 registered at UK addresses.
But DWA licences are also issued to properties where animals may be receiving care after being rescued, or living at small private farms, where people keep wild beasts for breeding purposes.
This means that as well as inhabiting garden enclosures, exotic wildlife also grazes on the greens of the British countryside, with 412 bison and more than 2,000 wild boar living in private fields, along with a score of zebras.
The RSPCA said it was concerned that licences too often focus on protecting the public from harm, rather than on the well-being of the animals themselves.
A spokeswoman said: “We are deeply concerned about the number of exotic animals, including dangerous wild animals, now being kept as pets. People may buy them with little idea of how difficult they can be to keep and the animals are sometimes neglected when the novelty wears off and the commitment hits home. This is why we would encourage anyone thinking of getting an exotic pet to find out as much as possible about the animal’s needs and whether they’re a realistic pet.”
She added: “Licences for exotic animals classed as Dangerous Wild Animals - such as cobras, ostriches and caiman crocodiles - are granted by local authorities and the details are also held locally. There is no centrally-held list to determine how many are kept across the country. The emphasis of this legislation is on making sure the owner takes reasonable steps to prevent the animal from being a threat to the public, rather than the welfare of the animals concerned.
“Exotic animals have specialist needs and this includes the ones listed on the Dangerous Wild Animals Act list.”
These are the places in Yorkshire which currently have dangerous wild animal licences issued in them:
• Calderdale Council - Two rattlesnakes, two vipers, one puff adder
• City of York Council - Two Savannah cats
• East Riding of Yorkshire Council - Eight lemurs, eight short-clawed otters, up to 11 capuchin monkeys or ring-tailed lemurs, three Savannah cats.
• Hull City Council - Five rattlesnakes, seven cobras, six vipers, one Massassauga
• Kirklees Council - One Asian leopard cat and five hybrid Asian leopard cats.
• Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council - One Bengal cat
• Scarborough Borough Council - Six camels
• Sheffield City Council - One dwarf caiman
• Wakefield Metropolitan District Council - One rattlesnake, three cobras, one viper, eight ostriches