Captive Primate Safety Act


Summer examines her undiapered body for the first timePrimates Are Not Pets

Support the Captive Primate Safety Act

Nonhuman primates (including apes, monkeys, lemurs, and lorises) are highly intelligent and typically highly social wild animals whose needs are not compatible with the realities of a captive life as pets. Cute and helpless as infants, even the smallest primates soon become powerful and potentially aggressive, posing a threat to the people around them. It is time to put an end to this inhumane and inappropriate trade. The Captive Primate Safety Act would amend the Lacey Act Amendments of 1981 to prohibit any interstate or foreign commerce involving nonhuman primates for the exotic pet trade, including sale, transportation, and acquisition.

The Problem

Nonhuman primates of all sizes and species are kept as pets in the United States. The total number of pet primates is unknown, but most estimates suggest tens of thousands. For the vast majority of them, it is a wretched life. Even the most well-meaning of owners are rarely capable of meeting their needs. Endearing as infants, monkeys and apes quickly mature and exhibit natural, wild behaviors that are incompatible with life inside a human household. Unlike in the wild, where most live in large social groups, almost all pet primates are kept in relative isolation, devoid of social contact with others of their species, and in conditions detrimental to their health and well-being. Attempts to mold them to fit the owner’s expectations—including expectations that they act like “little humans”—almost always end in pain and suffering for the primate. While a very few primates are fortunate enough to be placed in sanctuaries, the majority live a shortened, deprived, and unhappy existence.

The Pet Primate Trade

It has been illegal to import primates into the United States for the pet trade since 1975 (42 CFR 71.53); however, licensed and unlicensed dealers provide a continuous supply of baby primates to meet the insatiable demand of people who don’t understand that these are wild animals who cannot be domesticated and are not suitable as companion animals. The internet is rife with advertisements for baby primates for sale. Often for less than the cost of a purebred dog, a person can buy virtually any species of monkey or ape.

Case Study: Summer

As a baby macaque, Summer was playful and cuddly and looked around with the most soulful eyes. Summer was born at a private breeder’s facility. Unlike her wild cousins, who are nursed for six months and stay with their mothers for a year, Summer was forcibly removed from her mother when she was just a few days old—a common occurrence in the pet primate industry. Despite her fragile state and young age, she was then put into a tiny crate and shipped thousands of miles to the person who bought her.

Summer was kept in a diaper, another common practice with pet primates. As she grew, she increasingly fought this. When she started biting, her owner had all of her teeth removed. From then on, her tongue would not stay in her mouth and she had to eat a diet of mushy, processed food. Her owner finally just kept a diaper on her with duct tape, often not changing it for days. The resulting diaper rash permanently damaged the skin around her abdomen and genitals (seen in photo above).

Summer was rarely let out of her small cage. She spent hours alone, rocking neurotically under a blanket. Her leg muscles atrophied from lack of use. When she was let out, she was kept on a leash, attached to a collar around her abdomen. The collar was too tight and never taken off, eventually embedding into her skin and requiring veterinary assistance to remove. If she tried to climb on anything (a normal monkey behavior), she would be pulled down and yelled at, causing her to regurgitate her food in fear. This was Summer’s life for 17 years, until she was finally released to a monkey sanctuary, where she was able to heal and enjoy her remaining years.

Legal Status

Federal: Aside from the ban on importing primates for the pet trade, there are no other federal laws governing the sale or keeping of primates as pets. Primates used in research or held by dealers and exhibitors are provided some protection under the Animal Welfare Act, but this does not extend to those in private homes.

State: As of February 2016, 25 states prohibited the keeping of all primates as pets, while 6 more banned some but allowed others. Eleven states allow ownership of all primate species but require a license or permit. Eight states essentially do not regulate the keeping of primates—allowing ownership with no license or permit required. Even states that have enacted bans typically allow people to keep primates that were in their possession before the bans took effect. With lifespans of more than 30 years for some primates, it is likely that many monkeys and apes will remain as pets in those states for many years to come, with no hope of rescue.

Local: Within states that do not have bans or licensure requirements, some city and county ordinances have been enacted to require licenses or to prohibit the keeping of primates as pets. These jurisdictions include Fairfax County, VA; Fayetteville, AR; Topeka, KS; Kansas City, MO; Charlotte, NC; and Tucson, AZ.

A Solution

Primates are highly intelligent and typically intensely social wild animals who should never be kept as pets. The Captive Primate Safety Act is urgently needed to prevent many of these animals from entering the pet trade, saving them from a life of suffering and neglect.