Primates as Pets: No Ban from DEFRA

The UK government has described a potential ban on keeping primates as pets as ‘draconian’. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) are refusing to take steps to implement an outright ban before more compelling evidence in support of this can be collected. They want to see independent research carried out by the government on, “the number and living conditions of such pets,” and are seeking to ensure that through research and implementation of results, pet primates will be kept in conditions ‘as well as’ those in zoos, circuses and pet shops.

A worrying lack of evidence around primate pet numbers in the UK means the estimated figure varies wildly. RSPCA suggest between 3,000 and 9,000 pet monkeys are kept in Britain, however the report issued by DEFRA suggests this figure could be as high as 20,000. The majority of monkeys currently kept as pets are marmosets, capuchins and squirrel monkeys. Conversely, primate numbers in the wild are dwindling. Capuchins in particular are suffering marked decline due to habitat loss and degradation by humans, a plight which has seen the IUCN class them as Critically Endangered priority species.

Various animal welfare organisations have stepped forward to oppose the keeping of primates as pets, with Care for the Wild suggesting that, “primates are wild animals that cannot have their needs met in a household environment”. In addition to lack of data surrounding primate numbers, there is also a worrying lack of regulation on the sale of primates. Many are thought to be traded illegally over the internet, with many more feared to be kept in captivity for breeding and resale.

DEFRA have called on the UK government to begin conducting research into where and how primates are being kept, before deciding on the next steps. They claim that a ban is not being entirely ruled out, but that solid evidence and existing frameworks must be exhausted before this will be considered. They also state that a review of the Primate Code 2010 is due to be undertaken next year.

What do you think – should primates be kept in captivity? Is there any difference between keeping captive bred primates and captive bred birds, rodents or reptiles?

It’s an interesting debate; I am sure many primate owners out there are as responsible and loving with their furry friends as the rest of us are with our dogs and cats. Is it fair to take the animals away from committed, dedicated owners, some of whom may have kept these monkeys for many years? Undoubtedly, close bonds can be formed between primates and humans, and I would suggest it’s fairly evident that each case must be dealt with as an individual set of circumstances.

Personally, a blanket ban on all primates as pets I fear could potentially do more harm than good in terms of established primate-human bonds between pet and owner. However, I am slightly concerned at DEFRA’s requirement that their welfare be akin to that of captive animals in zoos and… circuses?! That’s the part that got me about this particular statement. I would suggest using the term ‘animal welfare’ in relation to circuses is akin to calling a slaughterhouse humane, and if that is DEFRA’s only condition for establishing a primate welfare baseline following their ‘solid evidence,’ then this particular government research proposal  is one we should all be watching very closely indeed.


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