Keep monkey business out of the house, warns charity

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The Independent Online

They may look cute and cuddly, especially when young, but monkeys should not be kept as pets, an animal welfare organisation has said.

They may look cute and cuddly, especially when young, but monkeys should not be kept as pets, an animal welfare organisation has said.

All primates, from monkeys and lemurs to baboons and the great apes, are wild animals which are wholly unsuited to life as domestic pets, said the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) yesterday, calling on the Government to take steps to phase out the keeping of primates in private.

The call was backed by some of Britain's leading zoologists and wildlife campaigners, including the pioneering chimpanzee researcher Jane Goodall, and Will Travers, director of the Born Free Foundation.

"They are wild animals and there is no way they can be domesticated," Dr Goodall said. "They do not belong in a home."

In a new report, IFAW estimates that there may be between 1,500 and 3,000 primates in Britain, mainly the smaller monkeys, being kept as pets. They are easy to obtain, being advertised for sale on the internet or in magazines such as Cage and Aviary Birds; some pet shops will also supply them.

But although keeping them at home is legal, it has become clear that to do so subjects them to great stress, as their natural living conditions cannot be reproduced, IFAW said.

"Primates are highly intelligent, long-lived and social tree-dwelling animals," said Phyllis Campbell-McRae, director of IFAW-UK. "It is virtually impossible for a private keeper to meet their physical and psychological needs in captivity. Boredom and frustration lead to aggression ... over-grooming, and self-injury.

"Many private owners are woefully ignorant about the welfare needs of their pets and lack the resources to care for primates in captivity. They are condemning their pets to a life of physical and psychological torment." There are other strong reasons to prohibit keeping primates as pets, IFAW said. Most of the world's 625 primate species are endangered, and the trade in them as pets creates a demand for illegal hunting, with large numbers of them dying during capture and transport.

IFAW is calling on the Government to ban commercial and personal trade in primates in Britain.

The report said there were dangers to humans from having a monkey in the home. There is a risk of transmission of diseases from primates which may include deadly infections such as the ebola virus. But most of all, there is the risk of the cute little pet turning on the owner as it grows, and causing severe injury.

"By nature primates are inclined to establish dominance hierarchies, resulting in encounters where human family members, especially children, are attacked," said the report.

Ms Campbell-McRae said monkeys were often bought when young, and within as little as six months were uncontrollable in the home, and dumped in a zoo, or a monkey sanctuary. "A monkey which was cute and cuddly as a tiny baby can become like a flying toddler at six months old."

The situation was graphically illustrated in an early series of the US sitcom Friends when Ross Geller, the New York museum scientist played by David Schwimmer, acquired a black capuchin monkey named Marcel as a pet.

Marcel became impossible to control - not least for trying to mate with people's legs - and was shipped off to a new life San Diego Zoo.