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Dangerous Exotic Pets: Primates

Private ownership of apes and monkeys is dangerous for people and animals

  • This badly neglected pet spider monkey was removed from an elderly woman's home in Ohio. Near death, the monkey was rushed to Primate Rescue Center in Kentucky for treatment and permanent housing.

  • Though manageable as babies, primates like this capuchin monkey quickly become uncontrollable and unpredictable as they grow up.

There are an estimated 15,000 primates kept as pets in the United States. From chimpanzees to capuchins to lemurs to marmosets, primates of all sizes are wild animals capable of inflicting serious and sometimes catastrophic injuries. They can also spread diseases that can be deadly to humans. Highly intelligent and social, primates suffer terribly in the pet trade.

Threats to primates

Primates kept as pets are taken from their mothers within just hours or days of birth. Cute and agreeable baby monkeys become aggressive and territorial as they grow up, and their owners often resort to drastic measures—such as painful tooth removal—in a futile attempt to control them. The complex social, physical, and psychological needs of primates cannot be met when the animals are kept as pets, and most endure lives of isolation, loneliness, deprivation, and frustration. More on captive primate welfare »

Threats to public health and safety

Even the smallest of monkeys are incredibly strong and become unpredictable when they reach sexual maturity. Primates are proportionately much stronger than human beings and, as a result, even the risk of unintentional injury is high. Since 1990, more than 230 people— including 70 children—have been injured by attacks from primates in the United States. Some of these attacks have caused permanent disability and disfigurement. List of primate escapes and attacks »

Primates can also spread deadly viral, bacterial, fungal, and parasitic infections to people. For example, macaque monkeys are popular in the pet trade, but naturally carry the Herpes B virus, which is often fatal to humans.