The Perils of Keeping Monkeys as Pets

<< Back to Page 1   Page 2 of 2

The health and safety hazards associated with exposure to monkeys and other nonhuman primates prompted the U.S. Centers for Disease Control in 1975 to prohibit them from being imported into the United States for use as pets.

Today, monkeys offered for sale are surplus animals from zoos and laboratories or from breeders, says April Truitt, founder of The Primate Rescue Center in Kentucky.

The babies are pulled from their mothers as early as three days old and given an inanimate object, such as a stuffed animal or blanket as a surrogate mother. Most of these young primates, say experts, develop aberrant behaviors such as rocking, self-grasping, and digit sucking.

Once monkeys reach sexual maturity they can become dangerous, says Wright, of the Phoenix Zoo. Smaller monkeys become sexually mature around 18 to 24 months. Larger primates, like orangutans and chimps, reach puberty between five and ten years of age.

Aggressive Displays

In an attempt to establish dominance, monkeys may attack their human family members. Once owners realize they can't handle the animals, they look to place them in other homes.

Zoos don't take former pets. Some unwanted primates end up in sanctuaries to live out their remaining days. Sadly, most end up being sold and resold over and over again. Others are sent to laboratories or used in breeding programs.

As pets grow older, stronger and more unpredictable, some owners may attempt to change the animal's natural behavior. Sanctuary owners say those tactics include confinement in small enclosures, chaining, shocking, beating, and removal of teeth and nails to prevent scratching and biting.

"Primates are wild animals," said Truitt of the Primate Rescue Center. "No amount of surgical mutilation, training, or beating will ever change that."

An interview request was declined by Charles Stonecipher, vice president of the Simian Society of America, an organization primarily composed of private owners. Another interview request sent to President Walt Gresham was unanswered as of press time.

On average, Truitt receives two phone calls a day from people who want to relinquish their animals. Primatology students also call requesting permission to visit the sanctuary, which has more than 50 primates, to study animal behavior.

"What they want to study is normal behaviors, but there's so little of that going on at our place because all of our animals are ex-pets or lab animals that were reared in isolation," Truitt said. "There's not a normal thing about them. Not how they eat; not how they relate to others."

The influx of unwanted animals has become overwhelming for the dozens of sanctuaries in the United States.

Five years ago, when Truitt couldn't house an animal at her sanctuary she'd call another one and easily place it. Today, she said that's not the case. Most sanctuaries are full, or near capacity.

"It's becoming an epidemic," said Kari Bagnall, founder of Jungle Friends. The Florida sanctuary receives e-mails and phone calls every day from people wanting to get rid of their monkeys.

"We're full right now," she said. "I don't know where they're all going to end up."

Former Las Vegas organ grinder Sony Rickson, who owns four capuchin monkeys ranging in age from 7 to 12, created the Monkey Moms Web site to educate potential owners, and gets 200 e-mails a day seeking advice and guidance.

"I think it takes a certain type of person to own a monkey," she said. "If you're committed, I don't have a problem with it."

Aggression, though, is a problem. Rickson said she was attacked just a few days ago by one of her capuchins.

"You never know which ones will grow up and attack and which ones won't," she said. "I have one that I worked with for seven years and I'd go everywhere with her—and all of a sudden one day she just turned on me. I have another one that I raised from a baby who wouldn't even think of biting me."

When asked about the use of shock collars, Rickson said she did not know of anyone with a small monkey that uses them. Removing all of the animal's teeth, though, is a common practice, she said, especially amongst organ grinders.

"If a person is doing it as a last resort to protect themselves, I don't have a problem with it," said Rickson, who quickly added that she has not removed her pets' teeth. "It doesn't stop the monkey from eating what it's suppose to be eating."

Currently she is working on opening a placement and rescue center for primates in California.

If given the chance to turn back the hands of time, she said her life would be different.

"I wouldn't have a pet monkey," she said. "It's sad to watch the depression they go through if they're not getting enough one-on-one attention. These are the types of animals that should be left in the jungle."

Readers who would like to comment on this story, especially those who own pet primates, are welcome to send the editor an e-mail. We will consider publishing a selection of letters that reflect different opinions.

National Geographic News Alerts
Register to receive e-mail headlines from National Geographic News. Click here to sign up. (We will not share your personal information, and there is no charge for this service. View our privacy policy.)

More National Geographic News Stories About Nonhuman Primates
Is This the Smallest Primate on Earth?
Researcher Sheds Light on Elusive Lemurs

First Genetically Modified Primate Introduced
Conservationists Fight to Save Tiny Colombian Monkey
Orphaned Costa Rica Monkeys Get a Helping Hand

Crows Better at Tool Building Than Chimps, Study Says
Tarzan's Cheeta's Life as a Retired Movie Star
Jane Goodall: 40 Years in Africa
Zoo Primates Go Bananas over National Geographic
HIV Originated With Monkeys, Not Chimps, Study Finds
Uganda Chimp Numbers Higher Than Thought

Massive Great Ape Die-Off in Africa—Ebola Suspected
Extinction Risk for 1 in 3 Primates, Study Says

Gorilla Wild: Face-to-Face in Africa for a New TV Film
Male Gorillas Make a Splash to Woo Females, New Study Finds
Elusive African Apes: Giant Chimps or New Species?
African Gorilla Researcher, Poaching Opponent Honored
Gorillas Make Home in "Impenetrable" Forest
Photo Gallery: Lowland Gorillas

Ebola Spurs Fears of Looming Ape Extinction
Near Total Ape-Habitat Loss Foreseen By 2030
Where Does Ebola Hide Between Epidemics?
UN Launches Campaign to Save Last Great Apes in the Wild
"Bush Meat" Crisis Needs Urgent Action, Group Warns

Orangutans Edging Closer to Brink of Extinction
Orangutans Show Signs of Culture, Study Says
Orangutans Losing Battle for Survival
Explorer's Notebook: Orangutans Headed Toward "Catastrophe"

Evolution of Primates
New Study Supports Idea That Primates, Dinosaurs Coexisted
Fossil Implies Our Early Kin Lived in Trees, Study Says
Humans, Chimps Not as Closely Related as Thought?
Chimps Belong on Human Branch of Family Tree, Study Says
Skull Fossil Opens Window Into Early Period of Human Origins
Controversy Over Famed Ancient Skull: Ape or Human?
Java Skull Raises Questions on Human Family Tree
Fossils Help Determine When Humans, Apes Diverged
Fossils From Ethiopia May Be Earliest Human Ancestor
Adolescence Came Late in Human Evolution, Study Shows
Are Humans Furless to Thwart Parasites?
Killer Cats Hunted Human Ancestors
Do Pakistan Fossils Alter Path of Lemur Evolution?
Ape Fossil Found in Thailand—May Be Orang Ancestor
TV Programs Probe Parallels in Animal, Human Mating
Sex Tips for Animals—A Lighthearted Look at Mating

<< Back to Page 1   Page 2 of 2




NEWS FEEDS     After installing a news reader, click on this icon to download National Geographic News's XML/RSS feed.   After installing a news reader, click on this icon to download National Geographic News's XML/RSS feed.

Get our news delivered directly to your desktop—free.
How to Use XML or RSS

National Geographic Daily News To-Go

Listen to your favorite National Geographic news daily, anytime, anywhere from your mobile phone. No wires or syncing. Download Stitcher free today.
Click here to get 12 months of National Geographic Magazine for $15.