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Press Release April 2013

Snake trader admits to illegally selling animals at pet market

A statement issued today by Doncaster Council has confirmed that a criminal prosecution brought by them against Mr Adam Wilford of AC Snakes, Leicestershire, has resulted in a formal caution being issued to Wilford for selling snakes at a market stall in June 2012. Mr Wilford, who describes himself as ‘private breeder’, initially denied the offence, but finally admitted to “carrying on a business” of selling animals as pets at a market, and was issued with a caution.

The Pet Animals Act 1951 (Section 2) states that ‘if anyone carries on a business of selling animals as pets ….at a stall or barrow in a market, he shall be guilty of an offence’. The law is designed to protect animals against poor welfare in the makeshift market environment. Wildlife markets effectively present an open door to unlawful trade, in particular in reptiles and amphibians, and organisers and stallholders have long tried to claim that the legislation does not apply to hobbyists selling surplus stock at markets. Doncaster Council, however, recognised that illegal animal selling was taking place and initiated proceedings against Mr Wilford, who described himself as a hobbyist. The outcome is a success for the Council, law enforcement, and animal welfare.

The wildlife market, organised by the International Herpetological Society (I.H.S.), took place at the Doncaster Dome on 17 June 2012. Following evidence submitted by the Animal Protection Agency (APA) to the Council regarding the actual nature of so-called reptile ‘breeders meetings’ or ‘shows’, the Council made it clear, prior to the event, that there was a total prohibition on animal selling at the event. Unfortunately the I.H.S. failed to impress this clear message on the stallholders who then proceeded to sell animals throughout the day.

The APA also tried to warn that animal sellers face prosecution, but they were instead swayed by organisers’ and other pro-trade supporters who gave false assurances that resulted in this legal case. Mr Chris Newman, spokesperson for the Federation of British Herpetologists (FBH) and the Reptile and Exotic Pet Trade Association (REPTA), reportedly confirmed on a public online forum that Mr Wilford was one of many other breeders selling animals on the day, by stating:

“Mr Wilford, a well known and long established hobbyist, has been keeping and breeding snakes for more than twenty years but on June 16th 2012 he was targeted by Doncaster Borough Council enforcement team over selling his excess stock at the IHS Breeder’s Meeting held at the Doncaster Dome. At least one hundred other breeders also exhibited, but the Council singled out Mr Wilford, accusing him of running a “business” by selling his surplus snakes which he bred himself.”

This further statement from the pro-trade lobby underscores that regardless of Mr Wilford initially presenting himself as a private hobbyist selling only his ‘surplus’ personally bred-stock, he was nevertheless guilty of “carrying on a business” of selling pets at a market and even he admitted that this broke the law. Formal cautions are an established procedure for reprimanding criminal activity under the Home Office and Crown Prosecution Service guidance.

The case, brought by Doncaster Council, is the first of its kind and it is hoped that it will set an example for other councils to follow, and also serve as a deterrent for animal sellers including so-called ‘hobbyist breeders’ hoping to sell at similar events planned around the country. The Animal Protection Agency also hopes that managers of venues at which events are planned this year, withdraw permission for the markets and avoid being associated with illegal activity. In 2013, events are planned in Doncaster (23 June, 22 September and 3 November), Kidderminster (28 July and 1 December), Norwich (7 July) and Sunbury (11 August). An event, which went underground, surfaced in Newport on 14 April and it is hoped that Newport Council will be bringing prosecutions against sellers at the event.

Says Elaine Toland, Director of the Animal Protection Agency:

“Prior to the event that took place at the Doncaster Dome last year, we reported, via our web page and social networks, on the Council’s advice to organisers that no animal selling should take place. This was met with a torrent of abuse and threats from reptile keepers and dealers who had received a conflicting message from the organisers that the event could proceed with impunity. They were wrong! We have frequently heard the now classic falsehood that ‘selling surplus stock’ or ‘personally bred’ animals is ‘legal’ – it isn’t. The prosecuted seller fits the typical profile of those who sell at markets - it shouldn’t wash with authorities, and didn’t at Doncaster.

It is beyond question that animal welfare is very poor at these markets and thankfully, following Doncaster Council’s firm stance, the message to those intending to sell animals at forthcoming events is clear, you do so at a grave risk of prosecution.”

Although exotic pet traders have long sought a change in the law to permit exotic pet markets, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has committed to carrying forward existing restrictions on pet markets to future legislation.