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Primates As Pets: How To Make Your Monkey Dreams Come True

Primates as pets - childhood dream, terrible idea!

Every kid dreams of getting a monkey of their very own. TV shows that cast tame, cuddly young primates make this dream seem possible. However, there’s a lot you need to know before searching for “monkeys for sale.” By the time you get to know what it takes to keep primates as pets, you’ll probably change your mind.

Types Of Primates

A primate is a mammal with a large brain, opposable thumbs, and typically walks on two or four legs – many can do both. They have long lifespans and mature more slowly than many other types of animals.

There’s three types of primates: hominids, apes, and monkeys.

A capuchin monkey in Costa Rica.
A capuchin monkey in Costa Rica.

A hominid is a human. All primate pets are unique because they share more genes and physical traits with us than, say, a dog or a cat. We’re more similar to apes than monkeys.

Apes do not have tails. Gorillas, chimpanzees, and orangutans are apes. They’re large and can become violent after puberty, making them terrible pets.

Monkeys typically have long tails. They’re smaller than hominids and apes. Monkeys that make the best pets include marmosets, tamarins, squirrel monkeys, capuchins and spider monkeys. 

Where To Move If You Want A Primate Pet

It’s illegal to own a primate in many parts of the world, so you might have to pack up and move if you’re determined to make this happen.

United States: Primates are banned in many states, though there are still a few with no regulations. You may need a permit in states where it is legal. Even in primate-friendly states, you’ll still need to check with your county and local animal control. Rural areas are more likely to allow primates than cities.

United Kingdom: Currently legal, though the RSPCA is working on passing a ban due to many monkeys suffering inhumane conditions.

IKEA monkey – this photo of Darwin the macaque went viral after he escaped his owner’s car and entered the store, wandering around in a coat. He was kept illegally as a pet, confiscated from his owner after the incident.

Canada: Legal in many areas, laws vary.

Remember IKEA monkey?

To refresh your memory, Darwin the Japanese macaque was found wandering around a Canadian IKEA store in a coat. Images and videos of “IKEA Monkey” went viral on the web.

Darwin was an illegal exotic pet. His owner was fined, and he was sent to live in an animal sanctuary called Story Brook Farm.

Do not get a monkey illegally. If you do, you will not be able to provide veterinary care without worrying about getting caught. It’ll be traumatizing for your monkey to be separated from you once you have bonded. You could even go to jail.

Never order a monkey off the internet. Even online, they cost over $4000, so if you’re ready to drop that kind of cash, you might as well travel to the breeder’s ranch and make sure the living conditions are humane. You’ll definitely want to meet your new monkey in person before purchase to make sure they’re as “sociable” as the breeder claims in the advertisement.

Housebreaking A Monkey

If you’ve seen pet monkeys on television or in videos, you’ve probably noticed that many wear diapers. Even a relatively less intelligent dog or cat can be easily house-trained – so why not monkeys?

Well, you may have used a crate to train your dog. Dogs are den animals, so they do not make a mess where they sleep. Cats have the instinct to cover their waste in sand.

Watch a cage full of monkeys at a zoo, and you’ll notice that they’ll simply relieve themselves wherever they happen to be sitting. Whether they’re hanging off a branch or swinging from tree to tree, they just let loose. You can train a monkey to return to their cage to use the bathroom, but it won’t be easy. You’ll definitely need to stock up on preemie diapers and carpet cleaner.

Service Monkeys For The Disabled

Service dogs are fantastic, but they don’t have thumbs. An assistance monkey can help their owners turn pages of a magazine, help you drink a glass of water, press remote control buttons, and other tasks that require nimble fingers. They do not go out in public, they only assist in the home.

Unless you are paralyzed, you can’t get a service monkey. The Helping Hands organization provides and trains capuchin monkeys for the disabled. It costs a total of $40,000 to raise and train the monkey, though recipients can have their monkey funded by generous donors.

Why You Don’t Really Want A Primate

Even specially trained service monkeys need years of training just to help their owners around the home. They’re smarter than other pets, but that does not mean they’re easier to train; quite the contrary. Their climbing skills often get them into trouble. Their opposable thumbs give them the ability to get into more mischief than you could possibly plan for.

A monkey needs a very, very large cage complete with furnishings that allow them to swing and climb. They need to spend many hours each day outside the cage for enrichment. Monkeys are born to swing from trees for miles each day and socialize with other monkeys. They may pluck out their hair or self-mutilate in a household environment. If your monkey develops behavioral issues, you can’t just take them to a local trainer as you would a dog.

Few vets have the skills and knowledge to work with monkeys. You’ll need an exotic pet vet, who will most likely charge much more than your typical veterinarian. Monkeys need dental care, regular checkups, and an emergency fund for when they inevitably get into trouble.

Monkeys are wild animals. While pet breeders do exist, it takes thousands of years of domestication to create a loyal, trainable animal like a dog. Monkeys bite, scream, fling poop, scratch, steal food and mark their territory with urine.

Where To Get Your Monkey Fix

Want to experience monkeys up close without getting one as a pet? Travel to India, Costa Rica or Thailand. In some countries, monkeys have become very comfortable around people. Some are friendly, taking food from tourist’s hands or even jumping on their shoulders. Others are malicious, raiding homes, attacking people and stealing food from markets and tourist’s backpacks.

Monkeys are expensive, mischievous and even those bred as pets are not fully domesticated. If you truly have a passion for monkeys, try working closely with experienced monkey caregivers at a sanctuary.

If you want an unusual pet with a long tail that can sit on your shoulder, get a rat!

Featured Photo Source – Pictured, a squirrel monkey who lives at a zoo, spends just ten minutes each day on a leash to greet visitors.

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