Pet Care not Pet Bans
Questions and answers on the positive list

What is a positive list?

In common language of the pet sector, a so-called positive list is defined as a list of those animals whose keeping, breeding and sale is permitted. All petsare therefore initially prohibited. A positive list allows a limited number of pet species in the second step. All animal lovers must therefore face the fact that after the introduction of a positive list they would no longer be permitted to keep certain pets.

Why a positive list means a pet ban

Some NGOs support a change of system where pet keeping would be banned. Unless it was a species included on a list for which keeping was exceptionally permitted. The European Parliament has adopted a resolution 2022/2809(RSP) calling for an EU-wide positive list approach. Furthermore, in January 2023, German Minister of Agriculture Cem Özdemir expressed that he considers snakes and chameleons to be particularly "demanding": "Why does anyone need to keep demanding, exotic animals such as snakes or a chameleon at home? I have never understood that," the Green Party politician told the Neue Berliner Redaktionsgesellschaft on 19 January 2023. He would like to ban these animals. However, if the criterion "demanding" were used as a basis for inclusion in a positive list, dogs, horses or rabbits, for example, would also have to be banned because their keeping is also demanding.

Why does anyone need to keep exotic animals like snakes or chameleons at home? I have never understood that.

German Minister of Agriculture Cem Özdemir
The milk snake (Lampropeltis t. nelsoni) is a very adequate snake for pet keeping.

The introduction of a positive list would degrade pet ownership. Up to now, keeping pets in Germany has been permitted on principle and is an expression of the rights of personality protected in Article 2, Paragraph 1 of the German Basic Law. Regulations with the means of a so-called negative list are currently only imposed if reasons of species protection, animal welfare or epidemic law indicate against pet keeping.

Some animal protection organisations have had an expert opinion drawn up which describes the aim of a positive list: "A positive list, on the other hand, follows the opposite system. It standardises a fundamental prohibition with a reservation of exceptions - the keeping of ‘pets‘ is prohibited unless it is a species for which keeping is permitted by way of exception in a list".

Objective criteria are hardly possible to set

So far, it is controversial whether objective criteria for the permission of pets could be formulated at all. Attempts in other European countries show that generally valid, scientific criteria for the inclusion of animals on a so-called permit list/positive list are very difficult to establish.

Are exotic pets a burden for animal shelters?

Many animal welfare activists are concerned that so-called exotic pets cannot be kept in a way appropriate to animal welfare. In January 2023, German Minister of Agriculture Cem Özdemir also spoke out in favour of a so-called positive list for this reason and justified the necessity of this set of instruments with the, in his view, demanding keeping of exotic pets. He expressed concerns that exotic animals in particular would pose major problems for animal shelters.

However, this is not true. As before, mainly dogs and cats are surrendered to German animal shelters. The German Animal Welfare Association and animal shelters describe dogs as a particular problem because they were bought during the pandemic, they are not properly trained and are difficult to rehome - see interview with Thomas Schröder, President of the German Animal Welfare Association. Every pet owner can get into the situation of having to give up their pet due to personal emergencies. There must therefore be animal shelters for all types of pets.

Mainly dogs and cats in animal shelters

One of the largest animal shelters for exotic pets in Europe is the Reptile Sanctuary in Munich. It regularly takes in exotic animals for which other animal shelters do not have suitable accommodation. Dr. Markus Baur, Chairman and Director of the Reptile Sanctuary Munich and specialist veterinarian for reptiles, is a member of a crisis management animal shelter group that exchanges information about current emergencies. According to his statement, the requests to surrender terrarium animals such as snakes or lizards have not increased in recent years, neither in his sanctuary nor in other animal shelters of the group.

Why would a positive list not be a "simple" regulatory instrument?

Generally valid, scientifically based criteria would have to be created for the listing of permitted pets.

Objective criteria are hardly possible to set

However, generally valid, scientific criteria for the inclusion of animals on a so-called permit list/positive list would be very difficult to establish, as shown by attempts in other European countries.

Each species would have to be evaluated before its inclusion on a positive list would be rejected. In concrete terms, evaluations would have to be carried out for at least over 2,000 pet species. This is because the European Court of Justice, with regard to a Belgian positive list in the "Royal Decree on the establishment of the list of animals that may be kept" of 7 December 2001 (Belgisch Staatsblad of 14 February 2002, p. 5479),

decided that

  • criteria for the establishment of such a list and its amendment must be objective and non-discriminatory,
  • an application for inclusion of a species in the list of mammalian species that may be kept may only be refused by the competent authorities on the basis of a detailed assessment of the risk associated with keeping specimens of the species in question (...) made on the basis of the most reliable scientific data available and the latest results of international research.

For example, it is not possible to scientifically prove whether animals are demonstrably "well kept". If the number of visits with sick animals to veterinarians is taken as a basis, dogs and cats would be unsuitable pets. If the number of animals surrendered to animal shelters is used as a basis, dogs and cats would also no longer be permitted to be kept.

No successful evaluation in practice

In addition, experience with a positive list in Norway has shown that, despite the ban, many terrarium animals were imported and kept illegally in the country. The positive list was abolished again. In part, completely unsuitable pets end up on a positive list due to the difficult definition of suitable criteria: For example, the mammal positive list of the Netherlands, which is supposed to come into force in 2024, includes water buffaloes, llamas, polecats, dormice and water deer! Popular pets such as chinchillas, degus and many hamster species are missing.

Agapornids stay together with their partner for life and care for each other. That is why they are also called "lovebirds".

How do you know if an animal is suitable as a pet?

Whether a person fits a pet or a pet fits a person depends on the needs of the animal and the possibilities of the person. Depending on the biology of the animals and in individual cases on the experience and expertise of the owner, the financial possibilities, the living situation as well as the time required, the availability of the necessary feed and keeping techniques, animal-friendly pet keeping succeeds. Veterinarians, pet shops, animal shelters and breeders can help you choose the right animal.

Dependency on the needs of the animal and the possibilities of the human being

Bans on keeping animals make sense if the animal is dangerous, cannot be kept in a manner that is appropriate for animal welfare, or if it is on the list of invasive species of Union-wide importance. Such bans are currently implemented in negative list systems at state, federal and EU level.

[Translate to English:] Frau mit Hund
It has been proven that pets have a positive effect on the health and the psyche of humans if the animals are cared for according to their needs.
Foto: blackbirdua / Adobe Stock

Why would it be unjust and unfair to ban the keeping of animals?

For a good relationship, attraction is needed. . This also applies to the coexistence of animals and humans. Many animal lovers prefer to observe and care for animals such as snakes or turtles out of vivaristic interest rather than dogs and cats. Others like to watch how a hamster gathers its food or how guppies reproduce. It is discriminatory and anti-social to devalue certain animal owners.

Animal and human must be compatible

It has been proven that pets have a positive effect on the health and the psyche of humans if the animals are cared for according to their needs. This applies to guinea pigs and cats as well as to ornamental fish, reptiles or amphibians. Access to pet ownership should therefore be equally possible for all.

Would a positive list be legally permissible at all?

Prof. Dr. Dr. Tade Matthias Spranger, Faculty of Law at the University of Bonn, comes to a clear assessment in his 167-page expert opinion published in June 2023: The introduction of a national positive list for pets would comprehensively violate various requirements of international, European and constitutional law. If the Federal Republic of Germany were to introduce a national positive list for pets, this would lead to the initiation of infringement proceedings, in particular by the European Commission. A positive list at the level of the European Union would also not be compatible with European law. "A positive pet list is contrary to European law regardless of whether the German legislator or the European Union itself is the author of such a list," clarifies the law professor.

Expert opinion on positives lists for pets

Are there regulations for the purchase and keeping of pets?

In order to restrict the trade or keeping of animal species, legal norms have been enacted internationally and nationally based on the principle of the negative list.

Examples of negative lists in the area of animal diseases and invasive species are the Animal Health Law VO (EU) 2016/429 or the Union List of Invasive Species, VO (EU) 1143/2014. According to the regulations on dangerous animals in many federal states, animals that are dangerous to humans due to their size, strength or venom may only be kept under strict conditions or not at all. The regulations usually include that keepers must prove that they are competent and reliable.

Negative list is internationally recognised as a tool

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES): VO (EG) 338/97 is also a negative list. Before purchasing terrarium animals or specific bird species, animal lovers must check whether the desired animal is a protected species. For reptile and bird species that are threatened with extinction and may only be traded with an exceptional permit, pet owners can obtain proof of legal origin, the so-called CITES certificate (EU marketing permit), from the specialised trade and from reputable breeders. CITES is the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of wild Fauna and Flora, also known as the Washington Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (WA), which the Federal Republic of Germany and 20 other countries signed in 1973. It was transposed into applicable law by the EU through regulations. In the database of the Federal Agency for Nature Conservation, animal keepers can find information which protection status a particular animal is classified under.

The EU Commission sees difficulties in moving legislation to a positive list system: In response to a question to the European Commission's Environment, Maritime and Fisheries Cabinet, Virginijus Sinkevičius replied on 14 June 2022 that moving to a positive list would be "a systemic change in both EU and international law" and would have "far-reaching implications for the implementation and enforcement of the relevant regulations". The Commission had no intention "to propose a restrictive list of wild species that may be kept as pets in this context".

Are domesticated animals the better pets?

Whether animals are suitable for living with humans does not depend on whether they are domesticated, but on the biology that determines the conditions under which the animals are to be kept.

For example, although donkeys (originally from North Africa) are domesticated and can be kept as farm animals or animals in human care, they are generally unsuitable as pets. Nor do organisations such as the Central Association of Specialist Zoos recommend domesticated animals such as ferrets, alpacas or mini pigs (descended from the European or Asian wild boar) as pets

Not all reptiles are suitable for living in private homes. But to reject animal species such as snakes and chameleons as pets across the board does not do justice to reality and scientific findings. For example, the popular non-poisonous corn snakes (Pantherophis guttatus) or offspring of the Yemen chameleon (Chamaeleo calyptratus) can be kept as pets.

The donkey is domesticated, but generally unsuitable as a pet
Foto: Claudio / Adobe Stock

The process of change in domestication already begins when an animal is taken from the wild. Poison dart frogs kept in a terrarium, for example, are no longer poisonous because they are fed different food than in nature. So even as wild-caught animals, they are already partially domesticated.

Are there deviating requirements for the keeping of domesticated animals? In the German Protection of Animals Act, morally relevant biological criteria are used for keeping animals, namely the avoidance of pain, suffering or harm. These criteria apply to all animals, regardless of whether they are dubbed feed animals, farm animals, pets or wild animals etc.

Wildlife status is not a criterion

If domesticated and non-domesticated animals were to be treated differently, one would have to presuppose their inequality and justify it. The ethicists and veterinarians Thomas Richter, Peter Kunzmann, Susanne Hartmann, Thomas Blaha see "no general biological characteristic of wild animals (...) that prohibits keeping them". However, this does not mean that every real existing wild animal keeping is in conformity with animal welfare, just as little as every domestic animal keeping. (cf. "Wildtiere in Menschenhand Überlegungen zum moralisch-rechtlichen und biologischen Status von Wildtieren" by Thomas Richter, Peter Kunzmann, Susanne Hartmann, Thomas Blaha. In: Deutsches Tierärzteblatt 11/2012)

In the authors' view, the lack of "freedom" is also not a general obstacle to keeping wild animals. Rather, they cite the need for movement as an example of differences between animal species: horses, brown bears and polar bears have a great autonomous need for movement, whereas cattle and hawks do not. However, this has nothing to do with their status as wild animals.

The specialist group for ornamental, zoo and wild birds, reptiles and amphibians of the German Veterinary Medical Society (DVG) also declared in a resolution on 8 March 2014 that "there is no ethically justifiable and no biologically predetermined difference with regard to animal welfare between domesticated animals and so-called wild animals".

Why does a positive list not lead to more animal welfare?

The positive list could have a negative impact on animal and health protection and biological expertise. It does not prevent illegal trade in animals, but it hinders species conservation. A permit list would hinder diversity in pet keeping and may lead to people acquiring pet animals unsuitable for them.

Less diversity, more unsuitable pets

The Exopet study commissioned by the German Ministry of Agriculture also identifies the permit list as an unsuitable instrument for improving animal welfare. Animal welfare problems exist with exotics as well as with classical pets (see statements of animal organisations). With a negative list system, problem cases can be solved more easily, as bans or restrictions only have to be imposed on animal species under discussion. For a positive list assessment, at least 2,000 pet species would have to be scientifically assessed. The EU also uses negative list systems for classification according to evidence and testing to achieve animal welfare and species protection objectives.

What experiences have other countries had with positive lists?

Even though there is always a general discussion about "positive lists", the regulations on this are highly diverse and not comparable across the board. Advocates of a positive list often try to create the false impression that comparable positive lists already exist in other European countries. However, this is not the case. It is also not true that the European Court of Justice has "approved" the introduction of a national pet positive list. See the comments in the expert opinion by Prof. Dr. Dr. Tade M. Spranger from page 50 onwards.

Irrespective of this, experiences with so-called "positive lists" in other European countries have shown that despite the ban, many animals were illegally imported and kept in the country.

In addition, due to the difficult definition of suitable criteria, completely unsuitable pets also end up on a positive list and pets that can be kept in a animal-friendly way are missing.

Positive list leads to high number of unreported cases of illegal animals

In Norway, a reptile ban with an exemption positive list for reptiles was introduced, which was repealed again on 15 August 2017. After the reptile ban, the number of legally kept animals was around 1,000 animals (LMD 2002-2003). However, based on surveys, it was suspected that there was a large number of illegally imported and kept terrarium animals in Norway.

As the number of illegally kept animals was difficult to determine, the Norwegian Directorate for Nature Management (DN) commissioned a risk assessment and informant survey from the Norwegian Institute of Natural Sciences. According to the informants' estimates, which referred to both the DN's species list and other species, there were about 80,000 reptiles and amphibians at the time, with the highest estimate being 150,000 individuals and the lowest estimate 65,000.

The DN study also cited data from the pet trade and the Norwegian Herpetological Society: According to these, based on sales of equipment and food for keeping reptiles and amphibians, the number of individuals in Norway was estimated at 100,000 (NHF 2008; NCB 2009).

Based on the DN study on illegally kept animals and an assessment of the possible impact of legalisation on biodiversity in Norway, the Norwegian government concluded to repeal the reptile ban again.

Implausibly, each country allows different animals

In some cases, unsuitable animals end up on a positive list as pets due to the difficult definition of suitable criteria: For example, water buffaloes, llamas, polecats, dormice and water deer are on the mammal positive list of the Netherlands, which is to come into force in 2024! Popular pets such as chinchillas, degus and many hamster species are missing.

It is also interesting to note that in Belgium, the regions of Flanders and Wallonia have each reached different conclusions regarding the keeping of reptile species.


There are at least 2,000 species of pets

Hand füttert Koi

How many exotic pets are there in Germany?

The dictionary describes people, animals and plants from distant countries as exotic. According to this definition, most pets in Germany are exotic. Accordingly, guinea pigs originating from South America, rabbits from the Iberian Peninsula, southern France and North Africa, canaries from the Canary Islands or budgies native to Australia are exotic.

Besides dogs and cats, 4.9 million small mammals, 3.7 million pet birds, about 1,300 different species of fish live in 2.3 million aquariums and 1.4 million garden ponds in German households. There are also numerous reptiles, amphibians, insects, spiders and snakes in 1.3 million terrariums.

Overall, there are pets in almost every second household. Many pets are not perceived as strange. Irrespective of whether the animals can objectively be kept in a manner that is appropriate for animal welfare or not, some proponents of a positive list are particularly targeting terrarium animals such as snakes, poison dart frogs, chameleons, etc. (Source: The German Pet Market, ZZF/IVH 2023).

The mostly very colourful tree climbing frogs (Dendrobatidae) are also called poison dart frogs. However, specimens bred and kept in human care are not poisonous because no poisonous food animals are available to stimulate metabolisation.

How difficult is it to keep exotic animals?

We agree that only a few private individuals can keep animals like tigers or monkeys in an animal-friendly way. But is this also true for other exotic pets like hamsters, cockatiels or snakes? Whether the coexistence of animals and humans in private households is successful depends on whether the animals can be cared for according to their biology and needs.

Volker Ennenbach has been breeding terrarium animals for over 40 years and knows frogs particularly well. He breeds several tens of thousands of animals a year before he passes them on.

Reptile expert Volker Ennenbach

Even animals with complex climatic requirements are now suitable for keeping in private households with the appropriate technology and thorough counselling.

Reptile expert Volker Ennenbach

Ennenbach points out that terrarium technology has made "quantum leaps" in the last 30 years, so that many species that used to be considered problematic can now be kept animal-friendly without any problems, even by beginners, using the technology available in pet shops. More than 95 per cent of the animals on offer today are offspring that have already been kept in terrariums, so that there is no need for a period of acclimatisation, as is the case with natural specimens. Among the terrarium animals, there are many species whose needs can be met by private individuals. "Even animals with complex climatic requirements are now suitable for keeping in private households with the appropriate technology and thorough counselling," says the reptile expert.

Reptiles can well be kept in accordance with the animal welfare

In his view, small giant snakes such as the king python or climbing snakes are suitable for beginners in snake keeping. Among the suitable amphibians he counts many caudates and frogs. A well-equipped humid terrarium is absolutely necessary for keeping them in accordance with the animal welfare. For beginners, he recommends various tree frogs, such as the coral fingerling or the cave tree frog, the Chinese fire-bellied toad or also the great variety of poison dart frogs.

Among the lizards, he mentions the small iguana species and many species of anolis, agamas, geckos and skinks. Many cultivated chameleons - such as the Yemen chameleon - even become trusting if kept competently.

Are exotic animals kept in a way that respects animal welfare?

Some pet owners do not keep pets in a responsible way. There are cases of poor keepings of exotic pets, which are reported luridly in the media. But it is not conclusive that some advocates of the permit list for pets consider exotics such as snakes or chameleons in particular to be demanding and want to ban them. In general, all animals have typal requirements that pet owners have to meet with more or less effort.

Yes, 90 percent of terrarium owners are well informed

According to a representative Skopos study, almost 90 percent of terrarium owners in Germany have informed themselves in great detail about their pet's needs before buying, about half of them from experts in pet shops with terrarium departments. The Exopet study (2015) commissioned by the German Ministry of Food and Agriculture also did not indicate that owners of terrarium animals have less knowledge about handling their pets than owners of other animal species.

The Madagascar Giant Day Gecko (Phelsuma Madagascariensis grandis) is an extremely popular reptile species among terrarium enthusiasts.
Dr. Markus Baur

For the most part, people have knowledge. We also counsel them on how to implement the keeping.

Dr. Markus Baur

Dr. Markus Baur, Chairman and Director of the Munich Reptile Sanctuary and specialist veterinarian for reptiles, also does not find that animal lovers spontaneously and thoughtlessly acquire terrarium animals or give them away due to excessive demands. "For the most part, people have knowledge. We also counsel them on how they can implement the keeping."

In a panel discussion on "Expertise in pet keeping", Dr. Cornelia Rossi-Broy, board member of the Federal Association of Civil Servant Veterinarians, emphasised that the keepers of so-called exotics, especially terrarium animals, are often well-versed hobbyists: "I am amazed at how knowledgeable terrarium keepers are on average".

Animal welfare in the area of pet keeping should nevertheless be further improved, we propose the following measures instead of the positive list.