Minister’s comments on primates as pets welcomed

Animal health and welfare groups have welcomed comments by Defra Minister George Eustice MP who said he is open to looking at banning the keeping of primates as pets in England.

Mr Eustice MP made his comments yesterday (09.12.15) in a Westminster Hall debate on the welfare of exotic animals. He claimed that in Defra's view the keeping of a primate in a domestic setting was already a clear breach of the Animal Welfare Act 2006 and he was open to looking further into the introduction of other measures to ensure welfare needs were met, such as a ban and a licensing system with a sunset clause for those currently keeping primates as pets.

The Born Free Foundation, British Veterinary Association (BVA), Captive Animals’ Protection Society, Four Paws, OneKind, the RSPCA and Wild Futures joined forces earlier this year to call on the governments in the UK to introduce regulations that will end the keeping and trading of these complex creatures as pets. Despite the view by Defra that keeping primates in a domestic setting was an offence under the Animal Welfare Act, an estimated 5000 primates, such as marmosets and squirrel monkeys are being kept as pets in the UK. Therefore a full ban would be welcomed to help bring about and end to primates suffering due to being kept in such an unsuitable, unnatural environment.

David Bowles, the RSPCA’s assistant director of public affairs, said: “Groups like the RSPCA and Wild Futures get approximately a call every week from someone concerned about the welfare of a monkey being kept as a pet. RSPCA Inspectors 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.

“It is heartening to hear the Minister says he was willing to at least consider a ban, which is what organisations including ourselves want to see.

“We will be working with Defra in the New Year as part of a tightening of licensing regulations, and we hope our discussions with them on this matter will give further evidence to support the call for a complete ban on primates being kept as pets.”

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.”

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. To sign the petition to #ProtectPrimates visit www.protectprimates.org.

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.

The full transcript of the Westminster Debate can be read here: http://bit.ly/1IUOo5G

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”.

Sean Wensley, President of BVA said: “Primates are long lived, intelligent and socially complex animals whose needs are extraordinarily difficult to meet in captivity and BVA has significant concerns as to whether the welfare needs of primates can be met when kept privately as pets. We are urging the Governments in the UK to protect the welfare of these intelligent animals by introducing a ban on the keeping of primates as pets.”

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.”

Harry Huyton, Director of scottish based animal welfare charity OneKind said: “Primates are social animals which have complex needs which, despite the best intentions of individual owners, cannot be met in a domestic environment, resulting in lifelong suffering. With a forthcoming review on the exotic pet trade, Scotland is well placed to take a leading role in resolving this important welfare issue. We are also urging the Scottish Government to use this opportunity to consider an outright ban on the keeping of primates as pets and set a positive example to other UK administrations.”

*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


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