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A Life Sentence: Primates as “Pets”

Published 09/30/06
Source: Animal Issues, Volume 37 Number 3, Fall 2006

As our members know, A Life Sentence, the Animal Protection Institute’s 2006 investigation into the private ownership of exotic animals, has provided disturbing insight into the keeping of these animals as “pets.”

In particular, our groundbreaking investigation revealed the sad and lonely existence of many nonhuman primates who are kept as “pets,” forced into unnatural lives in settings that are highly abnormal for them.

Forcibly removed from their own mothers at birth, these poor animals may be raised in human households as if they were children. They may be forced to wear children’s clothing and diapers, and be taken around on a leash or in a harness. People will even try to train their “pet” monkey to sit in a highchair, drink from a cup, and use cutlery. Such practices can interfere with the animal’s natural development and almost always result in dysfunctional behavior.

Many “owners” also deliberately mutilate their “pet” primates to make them more manageable, having their teeth as well as their fingernails surgically removed. Such practices can be extremely painful and stressful.

Primates are highly social, intelligent animals with complex behavioral and psychological needs. They require companionship, group living, ample space, and an enriched environment. API’s investigation shows that, deprived of the companionship of others of their kind and raised like children in human households, these sensitive animals lead lonely and dysfunctional lives.

A Grotesque Spectacle

Sadly, it is not difficult to purchase a primate for use as a “pet.” Capuchins, macaques, gibbons, spider monkeys, tamarins, marmosets, vervets, baboons, and even chimpanzees are sold by backyard breeders, at auctions, in pet stores, or over the Internet.

Many “owners” purchase their primates on a whim with no prior knowledge of the species and are unable to deal with their complex needs. They do not understand that these animals are incapable of being domesticated or tamed; that by their very nature, they are inherently dangerous and unpredictable.

Primates pose a serious safety risk to their “owners” and anyone who comes into contact with them. Usually purchased as cute infants, they will start to exhibit unpredictable behavior after the age of two years. As they reach sexual maturity, they become larger and more aggressive, and will attack to defend themselves and to establish dominance. API’s investigation shows that attacks on owners and others are common and often go unreported.

Primate “owners” may belong to clubs and associations through which they regularly meet, often taking their “pets” with them. One such event is called a “Primate Picnic,” held in various cities across the country. At these national gatherings, “owners” of nonhuman primates come together to eat, talk, and socialize, while proudly displaying their monkeys, often in children’s clothes.

Such events are not open to the public and little is known about them. API’s investigators, however, were able to visit a Primate Picnic in Centralia, Illinois.

There, primate “owners” from across the United States traveled to the location with their “pet” monkeys. Around 100 people and 60 nonhuman primates were present. The primates were paraded about in strollers and harnesses. Various species in evidence included macaques, gibbons, spider monkeys, and even one female hamadryas baboon wearing an orange dress. Many had had some or all of their teeth removed. Some “owners” even had monkeys for sale.

Many of the animals were clearly disturbed by what was happening around them. They displayed signs of stereotypical behavior, rocking and circling inside their cages and traveling crates, some clutching soft toys. Such dysfunctional behavior is highly abnormal but is commonly seen in wild animals kept as “pets.” One spider monkey had on a frilly dress with matching underpants and a hat. She also had jewelry, including stud earrings through ears that had been pierced. Another monkey, also with pierced ears, was dressed like a ballerina.

“Primate Picnics” and other similar gatherings are grotesque spectacles. Primates belong in the wild; to see them in frilly dresses and jewelry is a pitiful sight. Events such as these show a clear disrespect for the animals themselves and provide graphic evidence as to why we are working to end private ownership of primates — and of all wild and exotic animals.

What You Can Do

Our supporters can play an important role in supporting our campaign to end the private ownership of primates:

  • For the animals’ sake and for your health and safety, do not buy exotic animals such as primates as “pets” and encourage your friends and family not to keep exotic animals as “pets.”
  • Do not visit or patronize roadside zoos and menageries or disingenuous “sanctuaries” that breed or display exotic animals for profit.
  • If your state, city, or county does not already prohibit private possession of exotic animals, contact your state senator and representative or your city and county council members and urge them to introduce such legislation.
  • Support legislation at all levels to ban the private possession of exotic animals.
  • Your tax-deductible donation helps support important campaigns like A Life Sentence. Go to our donations page or call us at 1-800-348-7387.

For further information on our campaign, click here.

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