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Back to Regulations Concerning the Private Possession of Big Cats

I.  Legislation on Possessing Potentially Dangerous Animals

In response to the increasing number of attacks by animals at the end of the 1990s in Spain,[1] Ley 50/1999 sobre el Régimen Jurídico de la Tenencia de Animales Potencialmente Peligrosos[2] (LAPP) [Law 50/1999 on the Legal Regime of the Possession of Potentially Dangerous Animals] was enacted to provide standards compatible with the safety of people, property, and other animals.[3] 

A.  Definition of Potentially Dangerous Animal

The law defines potentially dangerous animals as wild animals that are kept as pets or companion animals and, regardless of their aggressiveness, belong to a species that is capable of causing death or injury to persons, other animals, or property.[4]  LAPP also makes specific reference to canines that may be considered potentially dangerous.[5] The law does not include any specific provision on big cats. Real Decreto 287/2002 por el que se Desarrolla la Ley 50/1999 sobre el Régimen Jurídico de la Tenencia de Animales Potencialmente Peligrosos[6] [Royal Decree 287/2002 on the Legal Regime for the Possession of Potentially Dangerous Animals] provides a list of dogs of specific breeds or species that are considered potentially dangerous.[7]

A person who brings a potentially dangerous animal into a public space should carry the required administrative license and the animal’s registration.[8]  Animals kept on a private property, in a home, on a patio, or in any other fenced or enclosed habitat must be tied unless the animal is kept in an adequately enclosed living space of the appropriate dimensions in height and width to prevent other animals or people from approaching it.[9]

B.  Licensing Requirement

In order to possess any animal considered potentially dangerous under the law, an administrative license must be obtained from the municipality with jurisdiction over the applicant’s residence.  This license, which is valid for five years and renewable for the same period,[10] may be issued provided that the applicant

  • [h]as reached the age of majority and has not been disqualified from providing the necessary care to the animal;
  • [h]as not been convicted of homicide; assault; torture; crimes against freedom or moral integrity, sexual freedom, or public health; association with an armed gang or drug trafficking; or sanctioned for infractions related to potentially dangerous animals;
  • [has a c]ertificate of psychological aptitude;
  • [has p]roof of civil liability insurance for damages to third parties that may be caused by animals in his possession.[11] 

In addition, Real Decreto 287/2002 requires that the applicant have civil liability insurance with coverage of not less than 120,000 euros in damages.[12]

C.  Trade

Under LAPP, the importation of an animal classified as potentially dangerous into Spain as well as its sale or transfer requires both parties to the transaction to be licensed.[13]  Animals entering the country from European Union (EU) countries are also subject to EU norms.[14]

Additionally, any transaction involving these types of animals requires

  • a license for both seller and buyer;
  • an updated health card for the animal; and
  • registration of the animal’s transfer in the pertinent registry.[15]

All establishments or associations that keep potentially dangerous animals for breeding, trade, training, recreation, or care must have an official authorization issued by the competent authorities.[16]

D.  Registration

Owners, breeders, or keepers of potentially dangerous animals must register them in the Municipal Registry of Potentially Dangerous Animals.[17]  The record should include the personal information of the owner or keeper, characteristics of the animal for the sake of identification, the animal’s habitual residence, and information as to whether it is going to live with people or is being kept for other purposes.[18]  Its sale or transfer must also be recorded in the Registry.[19]

Any incident involving the animal must be recorded in the Registry’s file, including a record of its death or slaughter that is signed by a veterinarian.[20]  A health certificate for the animal that has been issued by the pertinent authorities must be included in the registration and must be updated annually.[21]  The owners or keepers of potentially dangerous animals must keep them under their control under adequate safety conditions to secure public safety.[22]

E.  Penalties

In addition to civil and criminal sanctions, violations to LAPP are subject to administrative penalties, which include fines and confiscation, sterilization, or slaughter of the animal.  The closure of the establishment involved in the infractions and the temporary suspension or permanent cancellation of its license may be part of the sanctions imposed.[23]

Under the Civil Code[24] anyone possessing an animal is responsible for damages caused by the animal, even if it escapes or is lost, except when the damages are caused by force majeure or the fault of the victim.[25]  Regarding criminal liability, the Penal Code[26] provides that the owners or custodians of ferocious and harmful animals left loose or in a condition susceptible to causing harm are sanctioned with a fine.[27]

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II.  Legislation on Wildlife in Zoos

Ley 31/2003 de Conservación de la Fauna Silvestre en los Parques Zoológicos[28] (LCFSZ) [Law on Preservation of Wildlife in Zoos] provides for welfare and safety measures in public and private zoological parks.[29] 

Regarding safety, the law requires zoos to take the necessary measures to prevent the escape of animals from the zoo, especially of those species that are potentially dangerous.[30]  Zoos are required to have specialized staff and adequate equipment and facilities to implement the necessary measures for animal welfare, environmental fitness, and safety.[31]  They are also obliged to implement in their facilities specific safety measures according to the characteristics of each species to prevent any risk to the health and safety of visitors and zoo staff, as well as to prevent the escape of animals.[32]

Zoos with wild animals are required to have the official authorization of the local authorities in order to operate, change, extend, or alter zoo facilities.[33]  Zoos are subject to at least one annual inspection by the local authorities to verify compliance with the measures and conditions required under this law.[34]  Violators are subject to administrative fines in addition to eventual civil and criminal penalties.[35]  Additional sanctions may include the permanent or temporary closure of the zoo.

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Graciela Rodriguez-Ferrand
Senior Foreign Law Specialist
June 2013


[1] Perez Monguio, Animales Potencialmente Peligrosos-Su Régimen Jurídico 21 (Bosch, Barcelona, 2006).

[2] Ley 50/1999 de Animales Potencialmente Peligrosos [LAPP] [Law 50/1999 on Potentially Dangerous Animals] Boletín Oficial del Estado [B.O.E.] Dec. 24, 1999,

[3] Id. art. 1.1.

[4] Id. art. 2.1.

[5] Id. art. 2.2.

[6] Real Decreto 287/2002, de 22 de marzo, por el que se desarrolla la Ley 50/1999, de 23 de diciembre, sobre el régimen jurídico de la tenencia de animales potencialmente peligrosos [Royal Decree 287/2002 on the Legal Regime of the Possession of Potentially Dangerous Animals], B.O.E. Mar. 27, 2002, BOE-A-2002-6016.

[7] Id., Annex 1 & 2.

[8] Real Decreto 287/2002 art. 8.1.

[9] Id. art. 8.4.

[10] LAPP art. 3.1.

[11] Id. art. 3.1.a–d.

[12] Real Decreto 287/2002 art. 3.1.e.

[13] LAPP art. 4.1.

[14] Id. art. 4.2.

[15] Id. art. 4.4.

[16] Id. art. 4.5.

[17] Id. art. 5.

[18] Id. art. 6.1.

[19] Id. art. 6.5.

[20] Id. art. 6.4.

[21] Id. art. 6.7.

[22] Id. art. 9.

[23] Id. art. 13.

[24] Código Civil [CC] [Civil Code], B.O.E. July 25, 1889, as amended,

[25] Id. art. 1905.

[26] Código Penal [CP] [Penal Code], B.O.E. Nov. 24, 1995,

[27] Id. art. 631.1.

[28] Ley 31/2003 de Conservación de la Fauna Silvestre en los Parques Zoológicos [LCFSZ] [Law on Preservation of Wildlife in Zoos], B.O.E. Oct. 28, 2003,

[29] Id. arts. 1, 3.

[30] Id. art. 3.d.

[31] Id. art. 5.

[32] Id. Disposición Adicional Primera.  Medidas de Seguridad Pública [First Additional Provision. Public Safety Measures].

[33] Id. art. 7.1.

[34] Id. art. 8.

[35] Id. arts. 11, 14.