A Monkey in Your Home?
By Dori English
Can monkey care be a positive experience? Yes, but only if
you are committed, well-prepared, and well-informed ahead
of time. To what degree is this possible? What if monkey care
is harder than you though it would be? Are you flexible in
your expectations? Will you remain committed in the face of
all difficulties? The "Caretaker Rating Chart",
on the following page, should help you answer these questions.
Is it possible for monkeys to receive excellent quality care
and enjoy a fulfilling lives as pets? Yes, but realize first
that monkeys are complex social/emotional animals that can
best be termed as "high-care/high-need", "difficult"
pets. Difficulty levels vary between species and individuals,
larger monkeys generally being more problematic in some respects
and smaller ones in others. In reality, it is unlikely that
most people will be the highly motivated, committed caretakers
required to provide for a monkey's lifetime needs.
BUT FIRST--Here is a long, hard look at some of the
concerns monkey owners find themselves face to face with.
Take a close look. If you are serious about monkeys, you'll
be glad you did!
First of all, find out whether monkeys are legal in your
state, county, city or town. Monkey ownership may be regulated
against on any level of government. Federal licensing does
not obviate the need for state licensing. State licensing,
where required, does not satisfy requirements for county,
city or town permitting. The right to legally own monkeys
may be outlawed at any time on any level without wide spread
public notification. Illegal monkeys are denied vet care in
some states. Some states have the right to confiscate and
keep illegal animals, and fines and sentences can be levied.
At one time, the state of California wanted the right to confiscated
and euthanize illegal monkeys. The animal rights/animal welfare
movement has been empowered by the public and continues to
work against the legal right for private citizens to keep
monkeys. Fear by the public of shared monkey/human diseases
is also a motive for outlawing monkeys. Monkey ownership has
increasingly been regulated against on all levels of government
in most states.
Where permits are obtainable, yearly fees may be required.
Paid inspections or unannounced government agency inspections
may be part of a permit requirement. To determine the status
of monkeys in your area, check with your state fish and wildlife
department, with your county animal control or humane society,
with your town or city planning commission or other local
government agencies. The burden is upon you. State agencies
are not held responsible for inaccurate information. If you
are able to get a permit--take steps to ensure your monkey
permit will be grandfathered in the event that the law changes.
If buying one monkey now, ask if you can qualify for a "pair"
permit, so that you can legally acquire a second monkey as
a social companion later even if the law has changed.
The Quality, Committed Caretaker--Are You Suited For the
Taking care of a monkey is not a simple task. Monkeys have
complex social/emotional needs that change with their different
life-stages. Monkeys do best with patient, well-educated,
mature caretakers who have creative problem solving skills--ones
who are committed for the long haul and want to give monkeys
a permanent and satisfying home. Caretakers best suited for
the job tend to be people who have had positive results (1)
parenting children, or (2) working with other intelligent
social creatures such as dogs or parrots, or other exotic
animals. Monkeys do best with "foreground", not
"background" attention to their needs. Still, in
terms of potential difficulty, no other animal can equal a
monkey. A monkey's greater intelligence brings with it a greater
capacity for unexpected or difficult behavior and also a greater
capacity to suffer when relegated to a poor or inappropriate
Monkeys As Part of the Family?
Monkeys complicate family life. Often dealing with a growing
monkey has the same effect as dealing with a difficult child.
This is especially true of capuchin sized monkeys and larger.
Monkeys may divide up the family buy having different relationships
with each member--liking one member above all others--usually
the most dominant adult or by scapegoating or picking on the
least favorite person--usually the weakest or youngest family
member. Maturing monkeys may become aggressive more easily
in the presence of two or more people and may have to be handled
by allowing only one person in the room at a time.
Can You Meet A Monkeys Complex Social/Emotional Needs?
Monkeys thrive only when their social needs are met. Companionship
may come in the form of another compatible social animal,
a full social circle of people or another compatible monkey.
Monkeys have the emotional needs for love and security, the
need to be touched and to have body contact. A monkey's emotional
needs are human-like, but monkeys will still exhibit their
own species specific "wild animal" behaviors, especially
as adults. Monkeys need to be recognized as the emotional
creatures that they are. Learn to recognize your monkey's
needs, wants and feelings. Monkeys may become emotionally
disturbed or aggressive when treated like "objects",
or when attempts are made to treat them strictly like human
children or to over-handle or control them.
Can You Afford Proper Housing?
Proper housing allows for large motor exercise, running and
leaping. Cages which simply put monkeys on display are not
usually large enough. Kennel crates, cat cages, and bird cages
are not recommended as even temporary housing, since temporary
housing often becomes permanent.
Are You Ready to Deal With Temperament?
It is not reasonable to expect that you will never be bitten
by any monkey. The relatively docile youngster eventually
turns from play-aggression to the serious aggression of an
adult. Proper management techniques go a long ways in coping.
The larger the monkey, generally speaking, the bigger the
problem. Yet it is hard to prepare someone for the onslaught
of mature aggression in a monkey. Have you ever seen a rabid
dog in the throes of an attack--the pursuit of an angry bull
in a bull ring, the vicious ripping power of a lion's canine
teeth? A mature monkey, even one who was hand-raised, can
attack a friend or stranger with equal vengeance. An angry
monkey has the cunning and dexterity to leap into the air
and accurately take a swipe an the human eye, or to bite the
human body in the most vulnerable places, the jugular vein,
the veins of the wrists, the nerve-filled fingers of the hand.
It almost takes the discipline of a professional trainer to
deal with the personalities of some individual monkeys in
a constructive way as they mature. It takes love, forgiveness
and stick-to-it-iveness to remain a committed caretaker.
Loose In The House?
Greater intelligence in monkeys does not equal greater mindfulness.
Most monkeys remain mischievous, and are not trainable as
dogs, birds or other animals. At their worst, when capuchin
sized or larger monkeys are loose in the house, they often
seek out coveted personal items, i.e., the most meaningful
objects to a monkey are often forbidden ones. At their worst,
growing monkeys may pull down drapes, shred cloth, chew wood,
spill drinks, steal food, take possession of articles and
refuse to return them, damage house plants, torment other
household pets, soil or stain furniture, tip chairs, break
knickknacks, ink pens or dishes, tear books and papers, get
into cleaning fluids or baking ingredients, open drawers,
cabinets, unlock or open inside and outside house doors, open
refrigerators and windows, remove window screens, open baby
proof latches and lids, break glass, push large pieces of
furniture over, urinate into television sets or other electronic
equipment ect. Monkeys are escape artists and may unfasten
their belts, their leashes, wiggle the bolts from their kennel
carriers, find ways to escape cages or other housing. Such
behaviors are not only damaging to your home and property
but can be dangerous to the monkey as well.
Monkeys do not have an instinct for keeping their housing
area clean. In nature, all excess food and waste fall downward
away from the monkey. Monkeys in cages have a natural tendency
to drop food. In the worst case, they may smear food, shred
and remove diapers, shred cage papers, smear feces, splatter
urine. Several species also have the innate behaviors of urine
washing or urine scenting. Properly fed monkeys have a regular
flow of urine and feces which need to be cleaned daily. Monkey
feces have odor, especially when closed in indoor cages. Mature
monkeys may become possessive of dirty cage items and resist
cleanup. They may behave aggressively toward their cleanup
crew, so a cage must be setup with easy, hands-off cleaning
in mind. Monkey cleanup and sanitizing can be difficult and
time-consuming. Shelves and toys may need to be soaked. Cage
wire eventually becomes "grungy", requiring extra
Do You Have Time?
Monkey do not remain status quo. An interactive relationship
with a monkey takes a continued daily investment of time.
Time is needed for cleaning and food preparation. Sick monkeys
may need constant care and attention.
Can You Do The Work?
Do you have the stamina for daily cleanup, care and food
preparation? Monkeys require the purchase, washing and preparation
of fresh produce, the ordering of fresh monkey chow, often
need vitamins added to their food and need a source of vitamin
Can You Afford The Cost of Ongoing Care for Monkeys?
Monkeys naturally waste food, can become picky in their appetite,
refusing once staple or favorite foods. Spilled or dropped
food will usually be wasted. The cost of vet care can be high.
One emergency can incur a bill of several hundred dollars.
Regular health checks are costly, anesthetic gas is expensive
as is diagnostic blood work. The ongoing cost of housing includes
heating, enrichment and repairs.
Are You Tolerant, Flexible, Prepared?
Can you tolerate monkey behaviors that are out of your control?
Can you make plans around your monkey if you can't find a
vacation sitter? Would you be willing to cut a vacation short
if when you are gone, your monkey refuses to eat, or gets
sick?--Monkeys have a life-span of 20-40 years. Are you prepared
to make suitable provisions for you monkey(s), in case of
your death?--Can you handle the premature death of a beloved
monkey, especially more likely in the tiny monkeys such as
marmosets? Other behaviors which can require tolerance include
male and female masturbating, same sex mounting, scratching
of genital areas, displaying erections or monkeys copulating
in front of an audience.
The Politics Surrounding Monkeys
The effects of the animal rights movement on monkey keeping
cannot be ignored. Animal rights and animal welfare agencies
continue to pressure legislation toward outlawing monkey ownership.
Monkey owners often unwittingly support humane or sanctuary
organizations that use their money to work against monkey
ownership. Where permits are required for monkeys, owners
may be subject to strict standards and fees. As a pet monkey
owner, you may be harassed by regulatory agencies or by animal
rights activists. You may face lack of support or refusal
to be granted a legal permit even when you provide excellent
care. Where monkeys are illegal, good veterinary care may
be difficult or impossible to find. In a crisis, you may be
alone or faced with the proposition of trying to drive to
another state. Also, in the last few years, public fear of
shared monkey/human diseases has increased, and you may find
that you and your monkey are shunned by the public. Veterinarians
may also refuse your monkey care out of animal rights convictions........
Pet Monkey Owners- Just the Facts Please........
Most people buy monkeys of 3-4 months old or younger. The
appearance of an infant can be quite deceiving. Infant monkeys
differ greatly in behavior and appearance from mature monkeys.
The Six Most Common Reasons People Buy Pet Monkeys:
"They're so cute!!" (I love the way they look!!)
"They're so cool!!" (Different), (Attention Getting)
"I wanted an unusual pet." (Wanted an unusual pet
for the kids)
"They're so adorable dressed up like people!"
"I've always wanted a monkey!" (Wanted to know what
"They have to be the most special pet you can get.
The 12 Most Common Reasons People Give Up Pet Monkey:
An incident involving one or more of the behaviors below:
A serious bite or other aggressive behavior -- usually toward
a child or other family member, sometimes a friend or stranger.
Monkey is "disobedient", won't mind, gets into things
or tears off diapers or clothes.
Monkey has gotten loose and caused household damage.
Interference with family unity -- monkey likes some family
members and dislikes/attacks others.
Messiness-with food, droppings, cage mess or while loose in
Other "problem behavior." -- such as loud vocalizations,
urine scenting, male erections, male or female masturbating.
A legal case involving a bite or scratch or disease
Other Common Reasons:
Not enough time to spend with monkey--to busy to take care
Not enough space to house monkey.
Monkey is illegal
One or more family members dislike the monkey
The family is moving
A Few Thoughts About Displaced Monkeys
Be clear about what a monkey is before you get one so that
you will not be disappointed later. If you want a monkey as
a novelty item, an attention gettter or a cross between a
doll and a child, you may be very happy with an infant--but
not with a growing or full-grown, monkey.
Remember, monkeys are different than dogs and cats in that
they do not retain "tameness" or "docility",
without a continued significant investment of time. Even with
an investment of time, monkeys naturally progress to behaviors
of adolescence and maturity that make them less compatible
with most humans and their human households.
The caretaker skills required for successfully working with
the behavior of a growing monkey are close to the skills of
a professional animal trainer or animal behaviorist. In short,
offering a fair, fulfilling life to a monkey is much more
difficult, truly, than anyone can first imagine.
As they grow into adolescents, all monkeys are less manageable
in terms of human expectations, harder to control as "pets".
At this time, if the owner cannot begin to make appropriate
compromises, monkeys are then sold to new owners.
Studies show that children who are passed from unfamiliar
home to home suffer psychological trauma which is permanently
damaging. Also, moving is a major stressor for people and
Monkeys who become "second hand monkeys" suffer
greatly when they are sold and resold: Extreme psychological
distress, often internalized--plus despondency, detachment,
severe depression, aggressive behaviors, self aberrant or
mutilating behaviors can be the long or short term emotional
result for monkeys who are bounced from home to home.
A Call For Higher Standards
Honesty from Breeders, Dealers, and Brokers: Let the new
monkey owner know what they are getting into, the complex
caretaking skills required, the cost of proper cage setups,
diet and vet care, zoonotic disease, licensing information
and public health concerns. Ask to see a photograph of proper
sized housing in which the monkey you are selling will live.
Accountability In New Monkey Owners: Make an educated choice.
Learn as much as you can about the care of monkeys before
you buy. Have the proper sized housing setups from day one,
that is, build the proper cage before you buy the monkey.
Also have veterinary care lined up, provisions for social
companionship, knowledge of health and diet, toys and other
enrichment and a fund budgeted aside for possible extra monkey
costs. Make sure you understand permit requirements and public
Commitment In New and Old Monkey Caretakers:Stay committed
to ongoing, supportive education, to upgrade housing, vet
care, enrichment, social or other conditions when necessary.
Stay up-to-date on legislation and public health concerns.
So Now You Know--
You have the message. Maybe you are wondering how or why
anyone would want a monkey. Regardless of the pitfalls, some
people remain steadfast in their special love and commitment
to the nonhuman primates. Some people are very talented in
understanding monkeys and their behavior, enjoy working with
them and may even love them more than their human counterparts.