The Cruel Primate Pet Trade


Have you ever looked at an Instagram post of someone’s pet monkey and thought “I want one!”. Or maybe it was a video of a furry primate holding an umbrella. Either way, you were blown away by it’s charm and decided that this is the right pet for you….Well what would you say if I switly told you that you are wrong. Oh so very, very wrong. But before you click away, let me explain: It is impossible for you to want to have a pet primate because simply there is no such thing as a “pet primate”. 

Now you are probably thinking “great. She’s one of those (animal-loving-nature-worshiping-hippies)”. Well, yes and no. I am infinitely in love with nature and my mission is to help preserve it. But that’s irrelevant. My claims are not opinions or anecdotes. My claims are evidence based. Backed up with solid science.

So why is there no such thing as a pet primate?


“Pet loris” in a defense position. (Source: YouTube)

Firstly, primates are wild. They are not domestic animals. To obtain a primate, one must be taken away from the wild. At any cost. Here’s how it happens: Imagine a robber bursting into your home and gunning down the whole family. After all, no mother will give up her baby without a fight. No father or uncle will allow the baby to be ripped away from the family.  So the robber shoots everyone to avoid being attacked, then collects his trophy (the baby). Horiffic right? That’s not all. The baby is then smuggled out of the country, sometimes travelling across continents. Then finally he is sold for profit as an “exotic pet”. Exhausted and terrified he endures extreme physiological stress. His body balances between life and death. You don’t have to be a genius to understand that this trade is illegal. And extremely unethical. You would be appalled if this happened to a human baby, then why support this happening to another creature?

Some countries that do allow primates to be sold as pets, have regulations which prevent the import of wild primates. Which means that ones already in the country, can be bred. So why shouldn’t you consider buying from a ‘legal’ breeder? There are two main reasons actually. Firstly, you don’t actually know how that animal got there. There is no way to prove that it wasn’t illegally imported. Many primates (including lemurs and lorises-some of the popular choices as pets) do not breed well in captitivity. Therefore, it is almost certain that they were imported from the wild.

Secondly, young primates are usually torn away from their mothers just days after being born. Primates are not gerbils. They spend many years with their mothers before reaching independence. Even the smallest of primates, mouse lemurs reach adulthood between a year and two years old. Removing the primate from his mother too early does the same damage as isolating a human child from his: extreme psychological damage (click to watch a video!).Many primates live in social groups.

Secondly, unless you get 20 monkeys and buy a piece of forest for them, raising a happy single primate is not realistic. Social animals need to socialise with their kind. They need to build long lasting bonds. They need someone to groom and for someone to comfort them. But humans are not capable of filling in this role. We don’t speak primate. We don’t even understand what most of their squeaks mean. So what happens when a primate is raised in total isolation of his own species? A cocktail of depression, anxiety, self harm and a hint of crazy happens.


Foraging is a team effort.
Picture by Karolina Simanaityte (c). Captured in Brazil.

Now, think teenagers on steroids. That’s what most pet primates are like. This is because, when a primate reaches sexual maturity he becomes unpredictable. With no possible mates to explore and nowhere to direct his sexual frustration all hell breaks loose. Both males and females can become extremely dangerous (video). But its not just because of their raging hormones. Many primate species live in hierarchical societies in the wild. And as you may guess, seeking the rank of dominance is a sweet reward after making war.


Look at those canines! And that’s only a juvenile capuchin monkey (Cebus apella). Picture by Karolina Simanaityte (c). Captured in Brazil.

Disease transmission. Primates and humans are almost one and the same. We share more than 95% DNA and so many of human diseases can be passed on to primates, and vice versa. Creating a dangerous game of biological Russian roulette. Think Ebola, SIV/HIV etc. Are you sure you still want a pet primate?

Illegal pet trade is one of the reasons why primates are endangered in the wild. Our need to own an exotic pet is pushing them closer towards extinction. Do you remember that monkey I mentioned holding a tiny umbrella? That was the slow loris. A small, endangered, and venomous primate. One bite can kill a human. However, following the famous videos featuring (illegally obtained) pet slow lorises, the internet exploded. Millions of views later, slow loris was the exotic pet of the year. Everyone wanted to own this cute primate. And the primate started to slowly disappear from South East Asia.  But what most people didn’t realise is that these silly looking gremlins had to have their teeth removed without anaesthesia in order to prevent them from biting their human overlords. Wait what?! TEETH REMOVED WITHOUT ANAESTHESIA??? Yes. But don’t take my word for it, watch it here. Also, slow lorises are nocturnal primates (active primarily at night). Therefore, exposure to bright lights hurts their eyes and can even blind them. Now that is just animal abuse.

This leads us to the last and final point: owning a pet primate is animal abuse (refer to previous points for explanation). Therefore, supporting people who own pet primates is supporting animal abusers. And you are better than that.


Loris has teeth clipped.


Loris “for sale” in an open market. Crammed in a small, rusty cage and visibly ill.

Congratulations, now you know what it takes to obtain (and keep) a pet primate! Please do your research before considering to buy a primate. Always think “how did it get here?” and know that “it will be miserable if I keep one”.


For more information please check out Tickling Is Tourture and The Little Fireface Project .


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