Primates as Pets
The trade in primates as exotic pets in the UK has risen in recent years, according to figures from the RSPCA and Wild Futures.
Over 9000 primates are estimated to be kept as pets in Britain today. The numbers however are only guesses based on license records and RSPCA calls, as many species do not require licenses to be kept, or are kept illegally.
RSPCA’s senior scientist Dr Ros Clubb has stated that the number of complaints to the RSPCA concerning pet primates has risen by 73 per cent in the last year [Bawden 2014]
The rise is believed to be linked to high profile cases and the relative ease of buying exotics animals online or through newspaper advertisments.
It is legal to keep primates in the UK and although some species require a license under the Dangerous Wild Animal Act (DWAA) 1976 to own, many of the smaller species such as marmosets and tamarins do not require any paperwork. It is believed that a large proportion of DWAA listed species such as capuchins, squirrel monkeys and spider monkeys are also kept illegally without licenses.
The main arguments stem from the welfare issues surrounding the keeping of primates in captivity. Whilst those who own a primate defend their decision and insist that the animals are given the best care, many experts and welfare groups believe that it is usually not possible for owners to provide correct housing, social grouping and nutrition as these animals have very specific requirements and specialist training is necessary.
The RSPCA, the British Veterinary Association and animal welfare groups are currently calling for an outright ban on keeping primates, stating that the existing codes of practice that are in place are too general and legislation is difficult to enforce [Bawden 2014]
The RSPCA suggests that DWAA licensing has seen 85-95% non-compliance with owners failing to apply for licenses or to keep them up to date. This makes it almost impossible to calculate the number of owners or animals currently being kept.
Others groups fear that a complete ban would not only be difficult to enforce but would also drive the trade underground or through overseas websites [Bawden 2014]
The Human Society International UK (HSIUK) and Monkey World are amongst those that simply want the regulations and enforcement improved whilst still allowing responsible owners to keep their pets.
The RSPCA and Wild Futures have conducted research into the possible numbers of primates kept as pets and using data from local authorities have found that in 2012 339 owners had licenses. This is thought to be an absolute minimum though and a further 33% has been added to this figure to take into account the number of species that have been delisted, such as squirrel monkeys and tamarins [Riley 2014].
They suggest that there are currently between 2485 and 7454 animals being kept as pets in the UK although this figure could be up to 9000.
Wild Futures reported that 82% (mostly capuchins which are DWAA listed) of the animals taken in at the Monkey Sanctuary in Cornwall were not licensed [Hevesi 2014]
A report by Wild Futures (The Monkey Sanctuary Trust) also shows that behavioural and health problems are common in ex-pets. All of the ex-pets that were brought into the sanctuary showed at least one behavioural abnormality and many had health issues such as osteoporosis, metabolic bone disorder or obesity [Wild Futures 2009].