Monkey trouble: Plight of primates behind closed doors

The suffering of monkeys across the UK is highlighted as animal health and welfare groups launch campaign to end the keeping of primates as pets

Cooped up in cages, fed fast food and sugary drinks, deprived of friends, living in dirt and suffering from disease. These shocking images show some of the appalling conditions primates are being kept in behind closed doors across Britain.

Animal health and welfare groups are finding that the number of calls with concerns about pet primates are on the increase.

An estimated 5,000 primates* are being kept as pets in the UK and rescue groups such as the RSPCA and Wild Futures receive approximately one call a week relating to the welfare of a monkey.

Marmosets, capuchins and squirrel monkeys are just some of the primates being kept as pets, destined for unnecessary suffering in an unnatural environment.

The Born Free Foundation, British Veterinary Association (BVA), Captive Animals’ Protection Society, Four Paws, OneKind, the RSPCA and Wild Futures believe the cases of suffering they encounter on a frequent basis are just the tip of the iceberg and they have today launched a petition calling on the governments in the UK to introduce regulations that will end the keeping and trading of these complex creatures as pets.

RSPCA staff officer, inspector Simon Osbourne said: “The large coalition of organisations that are calling for an end to the keeping and trade of primates for pets reflects what an urgent issue this has become.

“It doesn’t matter how well intentioned the owner is, primates are not suitable pets. All primates, hand-reared or not, are wild animals. They are highly intelligent beings that need specialist care in captivity. The complex environment that a primate needs can never be provided in a house.”

“We find them living in bird cages, being fed sugary drinks and sweets and living in filthy conditions. Even when the owner has good intentions the animals’ needs are not being met because primates are so difficult to keep and it is extremely complicated to ensure their welfare needs are being met.

“While everyone is aware that everyday domestic pets such as cats and dogs are the subject of RSPCA investigations up and down the country many are unaware of some of the more unusual creatures that are helped by us. And the truth is that the number of primates that are being helped by us is growing.”

Director at Wild Futures Monkey Sanctuary Rachel Hevesi said: “We witness the effects of this cruel and unnecessary trade on a daily basis. Every primate that we have rescued has arrived with physical and/or psychological damage.

“It can take years of intensive care for them to recover. It is inspiring to see such positive changes, but heartbreaking to see the struggle along the way.”

The trend for keeping primates is on the up – but because of the specific needs of these animals their level of suffering is extreme.

To sign the petition to #ProtectPrimates visit

Break out box of primate facts:

  • Primates need to live in social groups – in 60% of cases investigated by the RSPCA these animals were being kept alone in isolation.
  • Usually sold as infants, pet primates suffer emotional damage and are deprived of essential social learning opportunities that continue to cause problems, Even if an owner tries to pair their primate up with another at a later date they may not get along and the damage has already been done.
  • The most common monkey that both Wild Futures and the RSPCA receives calls about is the marmoset monkey, one of the smallest monkeys in the world that generally lives for around 20 years.
  • Frequently kept in a bird cage as a pet, in the wild they travel up to 0.6 of a mile every day.
  • The RSPCA has taken seven prosecutions to court over the last six years in regards to primates. That averages at more than one per year.
  • 15 European countries have already introduced a ban on keeping primates as pets, of either all or some species. We now need the governments in the UK to follow.

Notes to editors:

The keeping and trade of primates as pets is a devolved issue. The Northern Ireland Executive, Scottish Government, Westminster Government and Welsh Government are responsible for the relevant legislation in their respective countries.

In August, Defra Minister George Eustice MP visited the Wild Futures Monkey Sanctuary to hear about the lives and stories of the rescued monkeys and witness the impact of the pet primate trade.

Chris Draper, Programmes Manager for Captive Wild Animals at the Born Free Foundation said: “It is abundantly clear that a domestic environment is no place for non-human primates. Whether wild-caught or born in captivity, primates have extremely complex social, spatial and environmental needs which cannot be met when kept as pets. Offering these intelligent animals for sale as pets inevitably results in a lifetime of suffering. It is time for this embarrassing and cruel practice to end”.

John Blackwell, President of the BVA said: “Some people buy primates as fashionable ‘accessories’ but these long-lived, intelligent, socially-complex animals are not like dogs or cats and are extraordinarily difficult to properly care for. Animal welfare is a priority for vets and BVA has significant concerns as to whether the welfare needs of primates can be met when kept privately as pets: we can think of no circumstances where a primate would benefit from being kept in this way. We are urging the Governments in the UK to offer the clarity members of the public need and introduce a ban on private pet-ownership of primates.”

Nicola O’Brien, Campaigns Director at Captive Animals’ Protection Society said: “Primates suffer immensely when denied the opportunity to live in their natural homes, with their families and they thrive without human intervention. Damage caused to primates kept as pets is not just physical, but emotional and psychological. Sometimes that damage cannot be undone, even after years of rehabilitation. It is vital that we ban the keeping of primates as pets in this country to prevent further suffering”.

Kieran Harkin, Head of Programmes, Four Paws UK said: “While the UK prides itself on a country which leads the way in terms of animal welfare and wildlife protection, the governments in the UK have continued to drag their heels on the issue of primates being sold as pets. The UK public would be shocked to know the extent of the situation, which sees around 5,000 primates being kept as pets across the country. It is clear that the needs of these complex wild animals cannot be met even in the most basic ways in a domestic setting, and the subsequent suffering caused to the animals in these unnatural environments is unacceptable. Four Paws UK is pleased that so many animal welfare organisations have come together to raise awareness of this worrying situation, and we hope that the governments in the UK act quickly to address the issue.”

Rachel Hevesi, Director at Wild Futures Monkey Sanctuary added “The lack of protection for privately owned primates in this country is an embarrassment. Our partners in Europe and around the world are incredulous that this trade still exists in the UK. Some even tell us that the knowledge of the legal trade here is driving the illegal trade in the wild. With 50% of primates being endangered, we should not be doing anything that might contribute to this serious conservation problem."

*Data obtained by Wild Futures through Freedom of Information requests to local authorities in England, Wales and Scotland show that 269 primates were licensed under the Dangerous Wild Animals Act (DWAA) in 2013. This figure was used to calculate the present estimate of around 5000 by: a) accounting for 85-95 percent non-compliance with the DWAA, thus the 269 represented 5-15 percent of the actual number kept and b)  b) including species de-listed from the DWAA in 2007, based on previously collected data. Note that this does not include species like marmosets which have never required a licence.

*Use of the word primates relates to non-human primates



Contact details:

For information, case studies and images or interview requests please contact:

Born Free press office 01403 240170

BVA press office                     020 7908 6340 or 07503 190 247

Four Paws press office           02079227916

RSPCA press office                0300 123 0244/0288

Wild Futures press office        01503 262532