Twycross Zoo media statement on primates as pets

Media briefing – Primates should not be kept as pets

Primates are social animals, with complex behavioural, environmental and nutritional requirements that cannot be met within a domestic home. Primates need to live with their kind, in a complex multi-dimensional environment which allows them to express natural behavioural repertoire and to fully develop their social communication with their own species. Failure to provide such opportunities results in poor welfare. Twycross Zoo believes primates in captivity should live under optimum welfare conditions and only be in captivity for conservation reasons.

People may love primates as pets and they are fascinating and amazing creatures, but Twycross Zoo urges people to think with their heads and not their hearts. Unlike cats or dogs, monkeys (nor apes or lemurs), are not domesticated animals and this means it would be virtually impossible to create a ‘domesticated’ primate. Primates of every kind have the same needs as those animals living in the wild – they are not tame and Twycross Zoo believes we should not try to tame them or change their behaviour for human benefit.

Many adult primates are naturally aggressive for various reasons and their behaviour can be unpredictable when around humans and thus primates should not be put into positions where they can harm humans and then be labelled unfairly as ‘problem animals’.

Twycross Zoo believes that the pet trade which is often conducted illegally, is damaging to primates as it prevents them from behaving like normal animals. Such animals need to learn how to be a monkey (or chimp or lemur etc) from their parents and siblings. Once the ‘chain’ of learning is broken between generations they may never recover fully and learn what it is to be a monkey. If, at a later date, the pet ‘problem’ ape or monkey is rehoused at a zoo or rescue centre, they take months or years of intensive work by animal specialists to return them into their natural state again and this is not always possible to achieve.

Although there may be cases of pet primates being kept in situations similar to a zoo, having primates as pets does not equate to conservation. Pet trade breeding does not preserve the species for conservation reasons and often risks inbreeding and the removal of critical behaviours (such as the ability to rear infants, locomotion and social group preferences).

The UN, along with many other governmental and scientific bodies, states that at the current rate of habitat loss and hunting, apes will be extinct in the wild within 20 years. Most monkey species are also under threat of imminent extinction. Modern charitable zoos like Twycross Zoo are members of international breeding programmes. These breeding programmes keep the species fit and well, individually and genetically, for 50-100 years hence. Primates should be in the wild or as part of managed breeding programmes within zoos.

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