A MENACING menagerie of big cats and fanged reptiles have made their home in the Oxfordshire countryside.

Lurking in a little-known private zoo in the tiny village of Heythrop, near Chipping Norton, is a vast community of exotic animals - from leopards and lions to kangaroos and cobras.

A freedom of information request has revealed the lengthy list of 'dangerous' inhabitants at Heythrop Zoological Gardens, home to animal training company Amazing Animals, including seven lions, five tigers, six leopards and two brown bears.

The Oxford Mail requested information on licences issued under the Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976, which must be obtained by anyone keeping a dangerous animal in private.

Just two licences in Oxfordshire were still active - one for Amazing Animals, and another for Cling Clang wild boar farm in nearby Enstone.

The former licence also covers: six wolves, nine camels, four zebras, two pygmy hippos, 10 antelope, eight monkeys, four kangaroos, four crocodiles, three alligators, two Cuvier's dwarf caiman, two bearded lizards, two cobras and a 'gila monster' - a venomous lizard.

Amazing Animals, run by Jim Clubb and his wife Sally, trains and hires out animals for films, television, adverts and private parties.

Though building for the zoo began in 1990, many people are unaware it exists as it is only open to the public three days a year.

Its inhabitants have starred in films including Holmes and Watson, The Legend of Tarzan, and television programmes such as Dr Who.

Animal rights groups are campaigning for a ban on making animals perform, and in 2016 BBC naturalist Chris Packham heavily criticised Amazing Animals in the Daily Mail.

The zoo states on its website, however: "[We have] long been at the forefront of raising standards in animal training and exhibiting.

"When you work so closely with animals and require animals to be cooperative, it breeds a strong need to ensure your charges have the best lives possible."

Mr Clubb told the Oxford Mail: "We have been actively consulted with the creation of several pieces of animal legislation as well as educational initiatives in animal welfare and training.

"Next year we are planning to run workshops for people in the film industry to promote higher welfare standards."

Also snuffling around the lush West Oxfordshire landscape is a growing group of wild boar, based at Cling Clang Farm in Enstone.

The farm's licence covers up to 12 wild boar, but there are currently only eight, ahead of a small breeding programme starting in 2019.

When a planning application was submitted for the farm in 2014, Enstone Parish Council lodged an objection stating: "To have wild boar so near to four public pathways is totally unsuitable and could cause a danger to the public."

Stephen Lawson, who runs the farm, said: "Cling Clang Farm has exceeded the highest requirements of Dangerous Wild Animal licensing to ensure the safety of the animals, staff and public.

"This includes triple fencing including high voltage electric, along with substantial signage.

"We are proud of what we have achieved."

Oxford City Council has not yet responded to the freedom of information request, but South Oxfordshire District Council, Vale of White Horse District Council and Cherwell District Council confirmed they had not issued any dangerous animal licences that remained active.

Zoos open to the public for more than seven days in a year are required to obtain a different licence under the Zoo Licensing Act 1981.