Did you know that it’s still legal to sell primates — like apes and monkeys – as pets in the U.S.? It’s true, despite the fact that many experts and government officials agree primates do not make suitable pets. But this archaic law may change soon, thanks to a new federal act that could deem those transfers illegal.
As it stands now, while some states prohibit keeping primates as pets, and others require a permit, you can easily purchase non-human primates from breeders and dealers in the U.S. and over the internet.
4 Reasons Why Selling Primates Should Not Be Legal
1) It‘s a Dangerous Situation
It’s not safe to keep primates as pets, for humans or for primates. Just ask Charla Nash, the Connecticut woman who was mauled by a chimpanzee named Travis back in 2009, which left her blinded and disfigured. Nash was helping a friend lure the pet chimp inside when the 200-pound animal ripped off her nose, lips, eyelids and hands before being shot and killed by police.
At a news conference in July, Nash appealed directly to lawmakers and the public in an effort to gain support for the Captive Primate Safety Act (H.R. 2856). The act “Amends the Lacey Act Amendments of 1981 to add nonhuman primates to the definition of “prohibited wildlife species” for purposes of the prohibition against the sale or purchase of such species in interstate or foreign commerce.” In layman’s terms, it would prohibit interstate commerce in monkeys, apes and other primates as exotic pets.
“Primates should not be sold or traded anywhere in the United States…they are unsafe to humans,” claimed Sen. Richard Blumenthal who is supporting the Senate version.
The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) describes the Captive Primate Safety Act as common sense, pointing out that monkeys can become unpredictable, aggressive and dangerous as they age. HSUS President and CEO Wayne Pacelle said, “Charla Nash’s recent visit to Capitol Hill reminded us of the terrible dangers posed for people and wild primates in mixing them together in our communities.”
Though an extreme example, unfortunately what happened to Charla Nash is not an isolated occurrence. In the U.S. more than 270 people, including 86 children, have been injured by captive primates since 1990, while many more incidents are believed to have gone unreported.
2) Pet Primates Are a Health Risk
According to the Human Society, primates can spread viral, bacterial, fungal and parasitic diseases that pose serious health risks to humans. For example, most macaque monkeys naturally carry the Herpes B virus, which is often fatal to humans.
Plus bites from non-human primates can cause severe lacerations and wounds may become infected, with the potential to reach the bone and cause permanent deformity. In fact, non-human primate bites are some of the worst animal bites.
3) Jeopardizes Animal Welfare
Humans may be evolutionarily close to great apes, with about 97 percent of our genes DNA matching up, but that doesn’t mean shacking up with a non-human primate in the suburbs is going to fulfill its social, developmental and physical needs.
According to the Human Society, “keeping primates in backyards, basements and living rooms deprives the animals of all that is natural to them.”
This letter urging legislators to support the Captive Primate Safety Act points out:
The average pet owner cannot provide for the basic social and physical needs of captive primates. People get them as infants, but cute and cooperative baby monkeys become unpredictable, aggressive and territorial as they mature. Once they’re too dangerous to manage, they are typically confined to small cages and relegated to lives of extreme isolation, loneliness, frustration and neglect.
According to this Welfare of Primates report, the need to be able to exhibit normal behavior patterns is essential to a primate’s welfare:
Gregariously social primate species should display social affiliative behaviors. These include social grooming, food sharing, communal resting, and interactive play as appropriate to the species. Primates should be housed in stable groups of sufficient size and composition to allow the full expression of these behaviors.
The question is, can a typical American household facilitate all this?
Lincoln Park Zoo is clear to point out that primates do not make good pets:
Monkeys and apes need to live or spend time with other troop members to be emotionally healthy. It is nearly impossible to recreate the social structure of the wild in a human home.
4) Hinders Conservation Efforts
Wild primate populations are impacted by the smuggling and importing of primates from the wild for the pet trade.
Some claim, like this UK-based article, that endangered primates are mixed up in the pet trade, and with shoddy paper trails and outdated legislation, it’s difficult to determine where the primates are coming from, whether illegally obtained from the wild or captive-bred.
With pet primates that are confirmed to be captive-bred, Environment Industry Magazine warns:
There is still risk to conservation efforts: the use of non-human primates as pets actually creates false public perceptions about their status in the wild, and may influence conservation-related behavior towards the species in question.
If passed, the Captive Primate Safety Act will hopefully protect both human and non-human primates from a host of problems that can result from private ownership. Non-human primates are clearly highly intelligent and social animals and those not in the wild deserve to live in an environment that is as close to their own habitat as possible. For everyone’s sake, that should legally rule out the typical American home.
Photo credit: Thinkstock
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