A reptile dealer, Paul Milner of Urban Constrictors based in York, received a formal caution from Doncaster City Council for his involvement in the illegal sale of snakes at a reptile market held at Doncaster Racecourse on September 19, 2021. Milner’s actions were exposed as part of a coordinated investigation conducted by the Animal Protection Agency. Video evidence captured by World Animal Protection showed him illegally offering snakes for sale at the event. Following this incident, the reptile market has relocated to Rotherham, where activists claim that further illegal sales have occurred.
The Pet Animals Act 1951 explicitly states that it is an offense to engage in the business of selling pet animals at market stalls. Nevertheless, reptile market vendors often pose as private individuals selling their surplus pets, asserting that they are not conducting a business and therefore not violating the law. Among those implicated was Paul Milner, a regular stallholder at the Doncaster Racecourse event, who, three years ago, boasted on his YouTube channel about a £100,000 target for his snake breeding business, Urban Constrictors.
Conditions for reptiles at such events have been widely criticized as inhumane. Snakes, lizards, tortoises, and turtles are typically displayed and sold in small, cramped plastic containers where they can hardly move or turn around. Little consideration is given to the fundamental welfare requirements of these reptiles, including precise temperature, humidity, and lighting conditions. Scientists have equated the treatment of animals at reptile markets to “tantamount to animal abuse.”
Animal welfare campaigners are now calling on the national government to take more significant steps to curtail reptile markets, which they argue are hotbeds of criminal activity. The Animal Protection Agency claims to have gathered evidence of widespread law-breaking at a recent large reptile market held at the Magna Science Adventure Centre in Rotherham on September 17, 2023.
Doncaster City Councillor Dave Shaw expressed his gratitude to the legal team at Doncaster City Council for their efforts in this case. He highlighted the complexity and ambiguity of guidance issued by Defra, asserting that the government should empower local council inspectors with better tools to combat illegal animal selling, ultimately preventing animal suffering.
Elaine Toland of the Animal Protection Agency emphasized the deplorable nature of trading sensitive wild animals in cramped containers, particularly in bustling markets where stress levels are exacerbated. She stressed that this case sends a clear message that reptile market traders engaging in such activities are at risk of prosecution, urging more local councils to take legal action against such sellers and venues to refuse to host such events.
Peter Kemple-Hardy of World Animal Protection expressed satisfaction with Doncaster City Council’s investigation and the conclusion that the law had been violated. However, he emphasized that illegal animal sales at reptile markets are a widespread, blatant, and unchecked issue, leading to the suffering of thousands of animals. Kemple-Hardy asserted that without commercial animal sales, these events would not exist.
Animal protection groups are deeply concerned that despite admitting to trading animals unlawfully, Paul Milner of Urban Constrictors is offering business assistance and advice through paid subscriptions. Despite breaching animal welfare legislation, Milner is providing guidance to snake breeders on how to turn their snake breeding and selling “hobby” into a full-time business.