Blame it on Crystal! Monkey film star sparks new craze

She has sparked a sometimes cruel tend – with 1,200 of the animals now being kept as pets in the UK. Sanchez Manning investigates

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The Independent Online

She is Crystal, the sparky capuchin monkey star of Night at the Museum and a host of Hollywoodmovies. But she has, inadvertently, sparked an epidemic of cruelty to thousands of monkeys which are forced to live trapped in cages where their minds and bodies slowly decay.

Crystal's film career began in 1997, when she played a baby monkey alongside Brendan Fraser in Disney's Tarzan spoof, George of the Jungle.

But it was the hit Night at the Museum, in which she co-starred with Ben Stiller and Ricky Gervais, which made the small, furry actor – or at least her Dexter character – a household name in 2006.

She has since landed plum roles in the 2009 sequel Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian and We Bought a Zoo with Matt Damon.

She stole the show once again last year, appearing as a drug-dealing monkey in the franchise sequel The Hangover II.

She is now set to star in the upcoming NBC sitcom Animal Practice, which will earn her a reported $12,000 per episode and make her one of the highest-paid actors on American TV.

But animal charities say Crystal's success and popularity is fuelling the latest pet craze.

Brooke Aldrich, the campaign manager of Wild Futures, a primate sanctuary in Cornwall, said films and TV shows have prompted a jump in inquiries from people wanting to own or adopt capuchin monkeys: "The most notable one is the Night at the Museum because the monkey is named Dexter and when the kids come into the sanctuary they say, 'Oh, it's Dexter'.

"You have people who think it's cool to keep a monkey – so there's a certain amount of status involved in it."

Wild Futures believes that the number of capuchins being kept privately in the UK stands at anything between 400 and 1,200, and this figure is thought to have climbed since 2009.

In all, an estimated 7,500 monkeys are kept in cages by private owners. It is illegal to keep the creatures as pets without first obtaining a Dangerous Wild Animals licence from a local authority.

Ms Aldrich said many people who buy capuchins know little about what is involved in looking after them and a high number do not bother to obtain a licence.

"There are very, very few people who keep monkeys who intend to do any harm," she added. "But if you don't know what a monkey needs, then you can do a whole lot of harm without realising it."

She stressed that monkeys are social creatures who need to be able to roam free with their own kind.

Joey, a capuchin monkey, was saved by Wild Futures after it was found abandoned in a flat in Hampstead, north London, where it had been kept in a 4ft by 6ft cage for nine years.

The diminutive primate was in a terrible physical and psychological state: it could barely move because of a crippling bone disease and rocked back and forth all day.

Still seriously disabled, it is making good progress under the care of Wild Futures staff.

In July, its future was assured when the broadcaster Stephen Fry stepped in to adopt it.

Introducing those other exotic pets

British giant rabbits

What are they? Earlier this year one of their species was named the biggest bunny in the word, weighing in at three-and-a-half stone

Upside Usually docile and happy to be handled

Downside Need a lot of space

Famous fans Demi Moore and Amanda de Cadenet

Pygmy hedgehogs

What are they? Domesticated versions of their wild cousins. They cost around £150 and one pet shop reported a year-long waiting list for the creatures

Upside At 12oz to 18oz, they're small enough to fit in egg cups

Downside Prone to illness and quick deaths

Famous fans Popular among WAGs (yes, really!)

Miniature dogs

What are they? Chihuahuas, pugs, bichons frisés. Last year, 400 handbag dogs were dumped with animal charities

Upside Heart-melting furry balls of cuteness

Downside Being carried around in a bag all day can be stressful for a dog

Famous fans Paris Hilton, Britney Spears

Red-eared slider

What are they? A semi-aquatic turtle that became the pet of choice when it emerged the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were specimens of the species

Upside They make children happy

Downside They are aggressive and like to chomp their way through fellow pond life

Famous fans Vanilla Ice

Micro pigs

What are they? They cost £700 each and weigh just 9oz at birth. They are the size of a tea cup and are easy to toilet train

Upside Cute

Downside They often grow into full-size pigs weighing up to 200kgs

Famous fans Harry Potter actor Rupert Grint

Pet monkeys

What are they? Marmosets, lemurs and capuchins are the most popular choice for primate pets in Britain

Upside Adorable and can been cuddled like babies while young

Downside Very expensive – £7,000 – and can inflict nasty attacks as adults

Famous fans Michael Jackson