National Geographic Daily News
Justin Bieber's pet capuchin in a shelter in Munich, Germany.

The capuchin monkey, named Mally and owned by singer Justin Bieber, sits in an animal shelter in Munich, Germany. Customs confiscated the primate after Bieber failed to provide the proper paperwork for it to enter the country.

Photograph by Felix Hörhager, Picture-Alliance/DPA/AP

Marc Silver

National Geographic News

Published April 2, 2013

On his recent travels in Europe, Justin Bieber ran into some problems in Germany. He had not obtained proper papers to bring his pet capuchin monkey into the country, so the monkey was put into quarantine.

That made us wonder: Do capuchin monkeys make good pets? We asked Debbie Leahy, manager of captive wildlife protection for the Humane Society of the United States.

Is it OK to have a pet monkey?

No primate species should ever be kept as a pet. They have very special needs. These are highly social animals. They need to be kept with others of their own kind; that's just critical to their psychological well-being.

Yet breeders in the U.S. sell monkeys as pets.

There are numerous problems with the pet monkey trade. For one thing, the breeders will pull newborn monkeys from their moms when the [baby is] just a few days old. So then the animals are bottle-fed and hand-reared by people. They never learn to become a capuchin or a chimp or a macaque; they don't have the opportunity to learn appropriate behavior from their mother and others in their group.

And yet it's legal to breed and sell a monkey as a pet?

It varies by state and by city. Some states may partially ban primates as pets. Oftentimes you see capuchins and other smaller primates exempted from those laws.

Because they're small?

Primarily. People pretty much understand that a chimpanzee could kill you. Look what [a chimp] did to that poor woman in Connecticut. It ripped her face off. Because of their physical strength they are incredibly dangerous.

And capuchins don't make good pets either?

All primate species can become aggressive. A lot of times when the primate reaches sexual maturity, it becomes extremely aggressive, unpredictable—bouncing off the walls in the house, destroying everything. It ends up being confined for the rest of its life in a little cage in the basement, or [the owner] looks to dump it—maybe at a roadside zoo or a pseudo-sanctuary.

What is a pseudo-sanctuary?

A place that claims to be a rescue operation when it's [actually] either keeping animals in substandard conditions or breeding and selling animals, which no legitimate sanctuary would do.

What happens when a pet monkey begins acting aggressively—say, biting people?

A lot of monkey owners go to a vet and say, "Take his teeth out." Sometimes they do a full dental extraction because the animals bite.

Are there other risks to having a pet primate?

What people don't appreciate is that all primate species can carry zoonotic diseases [infectious diseases that can be transmitted from animals to humans].

How many primates are kept as pets in the U.S.?

It's hard to nail down a precise figure; it's not regulated everywhere. But the estimate is around 15,000 in the United States. We know capuchins are popular as pets because we come across lots and lots of news articles about a pet capuchin attacking somebody, or escaping. We know they're popular in the pet trade. Macaques are popular too. That's really concerning, because they carry a very dangerous virus that has about an 80 percent fatality rate in people.

Do you worry that the publicity about Justin Bieber's capuchin will make other people want to have a pet monkey?

People want to emulate celebrities they admire. When somebody like Justin Bieber is irresponsible and goes out and gets a pet monkey, he sets a very bad example.

As an aside, I would say: That's not the only area of his life where he's setting a bad example.

Yeah, he seems to be a little bit out of control.

I've read that some disabled people use capuchins as "helper monkeys."

That's not a legitimate role. It's a scam. Sometimes [the training of] these so-called helper monkeys [involves] physical abuse, including electric shock. Supposedly they can do things on command, like turn light switches on and off or fetch a remote control. But the Americans with Disabilities Act does not recognize primates as service animals; it only recognize dogs. So it's not a legitimate use of a primate.

What might a parent say to a child who still wants a pet monkey like Justin Bieber has?

You can admire an animal without wanting to cage him and keep him in inhumane conditions.

63 comments
Nick Monteith
Nick Monteith

J Bieber probably has not got the intelligence to realise that this animal needs to be with its own kind and more than likely employes someone to clean up after the poor creature, saying that, he probably employes someone to wipe his own backside, then again I bet he hasn't got one as it all comes out of his mouth

Gord Campbell
Gord Campbell

My favorite animals are otters. Never wanted one as a pet. Other than a dog, why have any animal as a pet?

Kayce Cover
Kayce Cover

I wonder if anything Ms. Leahy says is credible.  Her HSUS agenda is showing and her knowledge is apparently deficient:

"I've read that some disabled people use capuchins as "helper monkeys."

That's not a legitimate role. It's a scam. Sometimes [the training of] these so-called helper monkeys [involves] physical abuse, including electric shock. Supposedly they can do things on command, like turn light switches on and off or fetch a remote control. But the Americans with Disabilities Act does not recognize primates as service animals; it only recognize dogs. So it's not a legitimate use of a primate."


Really?  She does not know anything about the "Helping Hands for the Handicapped" program, apparently.

http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-3475_162-323573.html 


"60 Minutes" did two shows on Hellion and Robert Foster, spanning the 25 years + this team worked together.  There are many other teams.  

I had never heard of Leahy, so I looked her up: http://petavanguardsociety.com/Dleahy.asp

Ms. Leahy spent 9 years in 'service' with Peta, that organization that is known for killing over 93% of the cats turned in to them.  The Peta position is that all animals are better off dead than in 'bondage' to humans.  Or at least, they stated that on their website some years back.

I don't agree.

What I did not find is any listing of professional credentials for Ms. Leahy. BEYOND being an activist with an extreme agenda.  I love National Geo for their support of their Scientists in Residence, their many wonderful publications and for the way they foster the love of exploration.  This article is a disappointment and a step down.  I reject the opinion of Leahy, who works for a lobbying organization vested in the elimination of animals as pets, and who did work for Peta.  Please feature someone who actually expert, like a USDA vet inspector, for example.



Majoros-Takács Márk
Majoros-Takács Márk

I think apart from diseases the biggest concern here is that monkeys are generally more intelligent than the usual animals kept as pets. And as such should be handled with greater care. It's almost like human slavery. Considering some could be more intelligent than some humans. But ofcourse who are we to say who deserves human like treatment and who dosen't, and should we justify better treatment only due to higher intelligence? In an utopistic dream we could aim for that all living things have equal rights, but how are we supposed to provide it? As a cow who/which chews on a bunch of grass, how could we say the grass has as much right to live as the cow. Nature is merciless, only the strongest survive, natural selection is essential, but some could say at least we humans can make a difference, and show mercy. Should we feel sorry for the mouse, who/which is being played with before him/her/it being eaten by a cat? I'm sorry i went far from the original subject. In my opinion every living thing, including plants and fungi too deserve respect at least, if not humane treatment. Imagine you would be stranded in the middle of the jungle, than you would really feel part of nature and possibly start respecting your life and all the life around you. Don't get me wrong I'm not praying for the tomato or the pork i am eating for consolidation. I am an omnivore by nature and will be like that, and take from my environment what i need, at least as much to survive, and possibly more due to human civilization's ability to provide more. Back to the subject, just because a crocodile is dangerous it shouldn't be kept as a pet? I believe if someone provides the crocodile with the proper care, and proper respect, he/she could do it, ofcourse in a good environment for the crocodile, like living with the pet in the middle of their natural habitat. But that dosen't mean someone in e.g. New York should keep one in his bedroom, to show off, possibly just to get eaten by the crocodile for the next morning. In this article's situation i doubt that is proper care, even if there are caretakers, he - as the article said - sets a bad example and and his high publicity makes matters worse, but perhaps this article gets at least as much publicity. Thank you for reading my humble and very long opinion.

Valerie Wagner
Valerie Wagner

Never for a moment did Bieber ever think about the needs of this animal. I want, it looks fab on me, and someone else will clean up after. Animals once again at the whim of jack-a****.

Barth Leight
Barth Leight

i owned monkeys for 12 years, education about ANAY pet before ownership is vital to the animals well being,somthing most people dont consider or even care about[let the kid get it,it will die in a few weeks] is  the typical attitude.justin owns the animal for attention.to me thats obsiene thank god the monkey has handlers,hope there aproprate. rember dogs, cats, ferrets,ect.were wild animals at one time,now domesticated.

Matthew Redden
Matthew Redden

This must be what John Lennon saw for us when he sang "Everybody's Got Something To Hide Except Me And My Monkey".

Nilo Baranda
Nilo Baranda

What were Justin Bieber's handlers were thinking, he'll be allowed off the airport with the monkey? Are they all that stupid or do they really think they're above the rules for everyone?

Bogdan B
Bogdan B

"You can admire an animal without wanting to cage him and keep him in inhumane conditions."

Inhumane conditions... applied to animals in this context makes me think on other meanings of the expression. I would precisely use "humane conditions" because animals wouldn't maltreat their kind or other specifies. So this is pretty specific to humans.

professora Margarete
professora Margarete

sure, everything was said is real. monkeys are "dangerous" because they can carry unknown diseases. I´ve heard of a USA scientist trying to flight out of Brazil taking a monkey with him. it could result in a "new" disease spread to people in USA! Unfortunately, there´s the other side... a female monkey  was found in a mechanics place in Brazil, being used as a sexual slave! Now she is being treated well far away from those ANIMALS, but she was completely scared of male humans at first. 

Ileana Marie
Ileana Marie

Monkeys should be in their place or jungle of origin, if you want a pet get a cat or a dog, maybe even a fish, leave the monkeys alone and free in their jungle!!!  

jesse moore
jesse moore

@charlote bagnall you made me lol :). i respect everyones opinion. ive stated mine.

John Taylor
John Taylor

One flaw in the article.  ADA does not discriminate against species of service animals.    But I'd agree that a monkey isn't a first choice for a service animal, and even if it was, that is still a very far cry from someone keeping one as a pet.

Charlotte Bagnall
Charlotte Bagnall

Go to a good breeder?!?! Excuse me, but do you think baby monkeys grow on trees Jesse? The are actually born from mother monkeys, yes that's right, and then before they are even weaned, sometimes as early as just three days old, they are ripped out of  their mother's arms! You think baby stealing is OK, well it is not! Just because something is legal doesn't make it right, shame on anyone who is stealing babies!

jesse moore
jesse moore

ive been blessed and lucky enough to get to work with quite a few primates... capuchins are deff my fave.  but ive got to see how awesome they are when takin care of correctly and live with there companions! ive also seen the bad side witch is super sad to see a monk just locked up left alone not handled ect. youd be mean also.   its just like a pitbull can be the best or worst animal youve ever know.. I hope yall get a chance to meet a capuchin or any other monk tht was raised correctly it will deff change your mind!!  :) till then i respect your opinion

jesse moore
jesse moore

@todd brown no one should own a chimp as a pet. if youve never worked with them or extensivly with them how would you know ? ive been bit way worse by a dog than i have been by any primates or any other exotic. there needs to be laws like flordia has everywhere! flordia doesnt have probs but they have a good set of laws for owners to make sure there properly educated and have the experience ect....

jesse moore
jesse moore

@jordie lewis you also have to remeber the ones that are raised correctly are amazing and live with there familys go with them everywhere sleep with them eat with them ect... so i think when corectly raised they are much better. they dont have to fight for the food and everything everyday!  they live better than 90% of people in the right home very socialized happy healhy smiling monks. Also if you go threw a good breeder they have been around humans for decades and even the breeder monks like ppl and like to interact still.. and your point on hamster dogs cats ect. LOOK  HOW MANY ISSUES THERE ARE WITH THEM. lots of strays lots of bites ect all because irresponsible owners thtas what it is in every case doesnt matter the animals

jesse moore
jesse moore

@jordie smith

Where do you think ALL "pets" came from the wild! Lol

Seems ppl forget that? They can be amazing if you have the time and resources to raise them :) like I said deff not for most ppl! No diff than ppl getting anything else if they don't put in the time the animal is not properly raised. The ppl are the issue not the animal.

jesse moore
jesse moore

also helping hands help alot of people that couldnt even turn on a light without there monkey helper! thats a horrible thing to say

jesse moore
jesse moore

thats a pretty crappy article. i DO agree that he shouldnt own a monkey! But there ARE people that can have them they can be amazing depends if you understand what your doing. You need the time and resourses to have them with you all day everyday for 40 yrs or so  monkeys are not for everyone! For all you people that think NOBODY should have one is very closed minded.  if you think that then you shouldnt have a dog cat or any other animal! Its the IRRESPONSIBLE PEOPLE THAT RUIN IT FOR THE GOOD OWNERS!  It should be illegal to go in the ocean because its dangerous if your going to be closed minded and think like that :)

lisa bean
lisa bean

I would love to know what happens to the monkey.

Tiffany Rose
Tiffany Rose

Thank you for writing this. It is appalling that it is even legal in this country. The exotic pet trade is a horrific industry that causes immeasurable suffering. Justin Beiber, and his "team" should be ashamed of themselves.

A. Person
A. Person

I only have one thing to say: Does anyone else find it kind of ironic that Justin Bieber would have a pet monkey, well, seeing as he himself, is, well... You know what I am implying, do you not? I believe that only certified people with a license and an actual reason to own a monkey should be able to have one. Not as a pet, but maybe for scientific research, such as observing its behaviors; not what Justin Bieber's intent was for: having a fellow "bro."

- Christian Gonzalez, Huntsville AL

Tracy Ross
Tracy Ross

Shame on you Nat Geo!  This article is completely bias and incorrect!  Your comments on the "helper monkeys" being not legitimate is false.  You should really do your homework on HSUS before you use them as a credible source!

Karen Hawkins
Karen Hawkins

A surrogate stuffed animal is not an adequate replacement for this young primate. It is imperative for optimal brain development that the monkey be on a "moving" mother. Research suggests that the synapses process is hindered without continual motion. The chemicals necessary for neurons to function properly are not fully developed when infant primates are not kept on "moving" mothers, thereby causing potential developmental delays or neurosis. 


Please keep this infant on a moving surrogate until it can be placed with its own species!

Pam Naumann
Pam Naumann

Although the interviewee has some legitimate concerns, she is not factual in the majority of her responses.  Maybe it would have been a more accurate report if a non-human primate specialist would have been interviewed.  Unfortunately, when the media does not check it's resources they do more damage than good...

Pam Naumann
Pam Naumann

Although the interviewee has some legitimate concerns, she is not factual in the majority of her responses.  Maybe it would have been a more accurate report if a non-human primate specialist would have been interviewed.  Unfortunately, when the media does not check it's resources they do more damage than good...

L. Banks
L. Banks

Regarding that last question, I would probably buy my kid a nice stuffed animal.

Charlee McWhirter
Charlee McWhirter

@Kayce Cover thank you for showing up this woman people are so easy to fool. PETA does not always have the animals best interest at heart and sometimes skews the info to their agenda. I know for a fact some monkeys are very happy with their human owners and love their home! Her post was complete BS

Charlotte Bagnall
Charlotte Bagnall

Go to a good breeder?!?! Excuse me, but do you think baby monkeys grow on trees Jesse? The are actually born from mother monkeys, yes that's right, and then before they are even weaned, sometimes as early as just three days old, they are ripped out of  their mother's arms! You think baby stealing is OK, well it is not! Just because something is legal doesn't make it right, shame on anyone who is stealing babies!

Charlotte Bagnall
Charlotte Bagnall

@jesse moore I must say again, I don't care if you grow a tail and swing from the trees, you are not a monkey and you are no substitute for a monkey, monkeys need to live naturally with others of their own species!

Jordie Lewis
Jordie Lewis

@jesse moore No problem with the name mix up :D I recognise that all pets came from the wild at some point, but some things are more suitable for pets than others. I definitely agree that there are people out there who could raise one properly, but they are more complex than hamsters or cats, who've been with us for quite some time. Maybe it's more a personal opinion than anything, but primates should stay in the wild and flourish. Also, I still don't think it's close minded to think they should stay in the wild. Thanks for the reply though! :D

Charlotte Bagnall
Charlotte Bagnall

@jesse moore There actually were no dogs thousands of years ago, we had wolves, foxes and the likes, dogs came from domestication over 10,000 years! Monkeys are still monkeys and WILD!

Charlotte Bagnall
Charlotte Bagnall

@jesse moore I don't care if you grow a tail and swing from the trees, baby monkeys are stolen from mother monkeys, that is WRONG, WRONG, WRONG!!!

Todd Brown
Todd Brown

@jesse moore While I agree that the irresponsible can ruin any good thing for the responsible, there are some ideas that are just wrong.  Owning a primate or monkey is just wrong.  Living in Connecticut it has been a mess over the chimpanzee attack.  The owner was irresponsible and glossed over the problems she was having.  The woman that was attacked was on the record as saying the chimp was dangerous, but still went to help her friend and now is trying to sue the state for not protecting her from her friend's chimp.  These are wild animals, not pets we are talking about.  The should live in their natural habitat and not someone's home.  The monkey trade and breeding practices for the trade are reprehensible.

As to your statement about being illegal to go into the ocean, I'm not sure where you are going.  It is more dangerous to go into the ocean if you do not know how to swim.  But you are only having an effect on yourself and potentially your rescuers.  But the monkey has no choice and while not human the monkey should have some rights too.  There are people that have raccoons for pets, and you hear stories about the raccoon eating the fingers off of the newborn child in the household.  Again wild animals may act tame, but they are not pets.

Jordie Lewis
Jordie Lewis

@jesse moore Just a question? How is it close minded to to believe that WILD animals should stay in their natural habitats and be WILD?

Charlotte Bagnall
Charlotte Bagnall

@lisa bean sign up for our Jungle News posts from our website JungleFriends.org and I will keep you in the loop.

Lisa Nelson
Lisa Nelson

@Tiffany Rose 

 I am not sure where "this country" is, but in my US state you can't legally own a primate.  

I do agree that they should be ashamed.  And I like how you include his "team" since he didn't fly to Germany alone!  Some older, more responsible adult must have known better.  Someone must have checked the laws and told him he couldn't do it.  

Charlotte Bagnall
Charlotte Bagnall

@Tracy Ross You should do your own homework on the so-called Helper Monkeys, it doesn't work and they are NOT recognized by the American Disabilities Act (ADA) as service animals!

Todd Brown
Todd Brown

@Tracy Ross A service animal like a helper monkey is quite a different situation from owning an animal as a pet.  A service animal goes through an enormous amount of training and is constantly monitored.  There is also a strong bond between both the service animal and the human companion.  Obviously this is a hot button topic for you.  Cats and dogs have been domesticated for hundreds of generations, most of the wild has been bred out of them.  There was a wonderful "experiment" in the Soviet Union to breed docile foxes for the fur trade.  Through selective breeding the foxes became docile like house pets, but their coats became multicolored.  These primates are intelligent and one step from being wild, they should not be pets, period.

Lisa Nelson
Lisa Nelson

@Tracy Ross  

I just looked it up, and it's true. Only dogs are recognized service animals under ADA guidelines.

I figured that NGS would know where to find factual information!

Ellen Gallagher
Ellen Gallagher

@Pam Naumann I work with primates and found all of her answers to be spot-on.  Which parts did you find incorrect?  

Charlotte Bagnall
Charlotte Bagnall

@Jordie Lewis @jesse moore Monkeys deserve to live as nature intended, my goodness, these baby monkeys do not even have the benefit of mother's milk, they are put on inanimate objects and then caged, and then once they bite the wrong person, they pay the ultimate price!

Share

How to Feed Our Growing Planet

  • Feed the World

    Feed the World

    National Geographic explores how we can feed the growing population without overwhelming the planet in our food series.

See blogs, stories, photos, and news »

The Innovators Project

See more innovators »

Latest News Video

See more videos »

See Us on Google Glass

Shop Our Space Collection

  • Be the First to Own <i>Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey</i>

    Be the First to Own Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey

    The updated companion book to Carl Sagan's Cosmos, featuring a new forward by Neil deGrasse Tyson is now available. Proceeds support our mission programs, which protect species, habitats, and cultures.

Shop Now »