Primates Are Not Pets

Pet primates are a dangerous national epidemic. It’s estimated that there are 15,000 nonhuman primates – chimps, monkeys and others – in captivity in the United States. They are often purchased as infants, readily available for sale on the Internet.

Cute baby monkeys become aggressive as they grow older. The horrific mauling of a Connecticut woman by a chimpanzee last week is a chilling reminder that primates are wild animals capable of inflicting severe injuries. At least a hundred people were hurt by captive primates from 1995 to 2005 – dozens of them children.

Primates are highly intelligent animals who live long lives. They have complex social and psychological needs, yet are often kept confined in small cages or basements. The average person quickly realizes that he or she cannot provide the housing or care that primates require.

In addition to the threats to public safety and animal welfare, these animals can spread diseases such as herpes B, monkeypox and tuberculosis.

Recognizing these serious risks, at least 20 states and the District of Columbia already prohibit private ownership of primates as pets. Given the patchwork of state and local laws, and the interstate nature of the primate pet trade, what’s also needed is a federal response.

The Captive Primate Safety Act passed the U.S. House of Representatives Tuesday by a vote of 323 to 95, and similar legislation has been introduced in the Senate by Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and David Vitter, R-La. The bill would ban the interstate transportation of apes, monkeys, lemurs and other primates for the pet trade.

The Captive Primate Safety Act is similar to a 2003 bill that prohibits interstate commerce of tigers, lions and other dangerous big cats for the pet trade. Like the big cats bill, the primate bill would crack down on the exotic pet industry but would not affect zoos or medical research. A broad coalition of scientific and animal welfare organizations – including The Humane Society of the United States, Association of Zoos and Aquariums, BornFree USA and Jane Goodall Institute – supports a ban on the trade in pet primates.

We need to end this dangerous monkey business. Primates belong in the wild, not in our backyards and basements. For our own health and safety – as well as the animals’ – the U.S. Senate should act swiftly and pass the Captive Primate Safety Act before the next person is mauled by a chimp.