Ownership of Wild Animals

Can a person legally own a live wild animal?

A person cannot own, “absolutely”, a wild animal while it is alive. However, in certain situations a person may be regarded as being the “qualified” owner of a live wild animal.

Where a person owns something “absolutely” they own it unconditionally and are free to treat, use or dispose of it as they wish. Obviously in the case of animals this is subject to certain legislation such as that relating to the welfare of animals.

Where ownership is “qualified” the person does not have an exclusive or permanent right to the thing or, in the case of this article, the wild animal.

Certain animals are deemed the property of the Crown, for example, whales, sturgeon and wild and unmarked swans and, therefore, cannot be owned by a person other than the Crown.

“Qualified” ownership, in the case of live wild animals, can arise in one of 3 ways. These are as follows:

Tame and reclaimed wild animals

  • Where a person lawfully takes, tames, or reclaims a living wild animal, they can acquire qualified ownership in the wild animal. Once a wild animal has been acquired in this manner the wild animal becomes the property of the person who has taken, tamed or reclaimed them. The animal remains in the ownership of that person until it is released or it escapes and reverts back to the wild and has no intention of returning to the person.
  • Examples of animals falling within this category will include deer, doves kept in dove coops, wild animals kept by a sanctuary and wild animals kept by a zoo.
  • In many instances, however, there is legislation which prevents a person from lawfully taking, taming or reclaiming a wild animal.
  • In the case of bees a person can only become their legal owner when the bees are reclaimed by that person and put in a hive. Once they have been hived the person who put them in the hive becomes the owner and they remain the property of that person even after the bees leave the hive for so long as the bees can be seen and followed. However, ordinarily the owner of the bees will not have the right to follow the swarm on to land belonging to someone else unless they obtain that person’s permission.

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For more information on:

  • Wild animals born on a person’s land
  • Hunting rights
  • Ownership of game
  • What about dead wild animals?