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Are You Sure You Want a Monkey?

Monkey Matters Magazine

Animated, intelligent, eerily "human," monkeys are among the most fascinating animals on our planet. That's why monkeys would seem to make delightful pets. But, unlike dogs or cats, primates (all monkeys and apes) have not evolved over thousands of years to live compatibly with humans. Monkeys are not domestic pets. They are wild animals ill-equipped to adapt to the alien world of their human cousins. Keeping primates happy and healthy in captivity is difficult, expensive and time-consuming.

As you think about bringing a monkey into your home, please consider the following:

Are you prepared to live with a wild animal?

Never forget that a monkey is a wild animal. Like raccoons, their infant friendliness fades as they reach adulthood, when they become aggressive and can attack with the slightest provocation. Most monkeys you see on television or out in public are very young; adults are rarely seen outside of a cage. Even hand-rearing an infant primate does not stop this natural change in behavior. In fact, depriving a baby monkey of a normal relationship with its mother and family group can result in a lifetime of neurotic behavior.

Can you deal with the mess?

All monkey homes share something in common: broken lamps and housewares, shredded curtains, unearthed house plants - not to mention the unmistakable odor.

You must watch your monkey every second it's free. Even the smallest squirrel monkey can open a cupboard and spill containers of flour, sugar and liquid in minutes. Larger monkeys can open refrigerators, turn on faucets, rip through window screens, unlock outside doors, turn over chairs, tables, stereos and televisions. Toxic substances and medicines must be kept locked. If you can't stand cleaning up urine, feces and occasional diarrhea, don't get a monkey. Remember, that means cleaning and disinfecting every day at least, 365 days a year! Monkeys are very excitable animals. They will immediately relieve themselves whenever, and wherever, they are upset. And monkeys cannot be easily house-broken. Though you may be somewhat successful diapering or toilet training a young monkey, once the monkey reaches maturity, training is usually forgotten or ignored.

Is it legal in your area to keep a monkey?

Contact the appropriate regulatory agencies in your area (e.g. fish and game, animal control, health department) to learn of restrictions concerning individuals keeping non-human primates. Some cities and states prohibit the keeping of some or all primates, while others require special permits. Don't wait until you have a monkey to learn it's against the law in your city or state.

What will happen when your monkey grows up?

Young monkeys, like all baby animals, are sweet-natured and devoted. But be prepared for a complete change of personality when your monkey reaches sexual maturity. All monkeys become temperamental as they grow older. Keepers must be extremely sensitive to their moods, for primates will attack even their primary caretakers -- often with no warning. Like humans, each monkey has a distinct personality: some don't trust strangers or children, while others will suddenly change their devotion from one family member to another. Dressing infant monkeys up like dolls can seem irresistible. But as they grow older, most primates refuse to allow themselves to be dressed. Those purchased as surrogate children are quickly dumped when they don't live up to expectations. And if you'd like to train a monkey to do tricks, forget it ...unless you are a professional animal trainer. Even then, trainers replace their primates once they reach sexual maturity and become dangerous (most are mature by the age of four). Finally, don't forget that monkeys are uninhibited creatures who engage in natural activities that may embarrass you, including genitalia displays, masturbation, copulation and same-sex mounting.

Can you cope with aggression - and sharp teeth?

No matter what you may be told, ALL MONKEYS BITE. Biting is a primate's expression of anger and nothing you can do will change that. Punishment is usually taken as a threat and can have serious consequences. And contrary to popular belief, spaying or neutering your monkey will have little or no effect on curbing aggression. And teeth removal is not only harmful and cruel, it doesn't remove the danger: a toothless monkey can still cause painful injuries. For the protection of both the monkey and people, you must keep your primate from contact with any and all strangers -- that includes friends of your children, neighbors and relatives. In many states, health departments will destroy a monkey that has bitten to test it for rabies. You should also invest in liability insurance -- people who are bitten can sue. And make sure you have some type of comprehensive health insurance for you and your family. A bite on the hand from an adult monkey can put you out of commission for weeks.

Can you guarantee a good home for the next 20 to 40 years?

Those are the average life-spans of well tended captive primates. Monkeys don't adapt well to new situations -- especially the addition of a new spouse or children. If you are a young person, ask yourself what will happen to your monkey when you grow up. Who will take care of the monkey if you go away to college, get a job in another area or join the military? It's never easy finding a new home for an adult monkey, for they have no resale value once they outgrow their infant charm. Remember, your responsibility to the monkey will not disappear as you mature or change your life-style.

Do you have enough space? The right space?

If you don't have room for a LARGE cage, don't get a monkey. The minimum cage size for the smallest monkey is 4 ft x 6 ft x 6 ft. Monkeys require ample room (indoors and outdoors) for vigorous exercise, together with a small, enclosed area for sleeping. Many simian keepers have given over entire rooms to their monkeys! Primates become depressed, even insane, if they don't get enough mental and physical stimulation. Tire swings, climbing ropes and toys must be replaced constantly as the monkey grows bored. A monkey's environment must also be warm, dry and free from drafts. Monkeys like to sunbathe for short periods and need the vitamin D from the sun, so they must be provided with both indoor and outdoor caging with shade. If this is impossible, vitamin D must be provided orally or through the use of special vita-lights.

Can you afford the cost of feeding and caring for a monkey?

If you can't afford $25.00 (and more) per week per monkey, don't get one. Monkeys cannot live on peanuts and bananas alone. Some species have peculiar dietary needs, but all primates require a well balanced diet. This can include a foundation of commercial primate biscuits supplemented by lots of fresh vegetables, fruits, vitamins and live insects.

Who will care for your monkey when you're away?

If you like to take vacations, don't get a monkey. Monkeys like routine and familiar surroundings; they are not good traveling companions. Finding someone to monkey-sit (that means feeding, cleaning and providing hours of companionship) can be very difficult. If a monkey is left alone each day, even for just a few hours, it can suffer psychologically and may develop aberrant behavior. To keep it company, you must consider adding another of its species or perhaps keeping a small troupe of monkeys to nurture and communicate with one another.

Is there a vet in your area qualified to care for a monkey?

Many vets know very little about primates, and some won't accept primates as patients. You may have to drive hundreds of miles to obtain the most routine medical care. Before you bring a monkey home, be sure to have a qualified vet give it a complete physical. Monkeys can be permanent carriers of serious illnesses such as tuberculosis, herpes and ebola.

We hope that you will consider carefully your decision to get a monkey. If you are willing to put up with the enormous sacrifice necessary to maintain a happy and healthy simian, we invite you to join the Simian Society of America and learn firsthand about primate care before you take the plunge.