Spider monkeys are Central and South American rain forest primates. Some spider monkeys are imported to and/or bred in the U.S. by medical research labs and zoos. Some individuals even keep spider monkeys as pets. However, in the U.S., laws exist that prohibit or regulate owning a spider monkey and many organizations work rigorously to discourage keeping such exotic pets.
It is important to remember that spider monkeys, although relatively small, are non-human primates, with needs that reflect their wild nature. Although cute and cuddly as infants, spider monkeys become increasingly difficult to control as they mature and can even become destructive and dangerous, particularly when bored or separated from their owners. Moreover, according to the World Animal Foundation, they never can be fully and properly toilet trained, which presents a variety of challenges for any household.
U.S. Animal Welfare Act
All U.S. states must comply with the federal Animal Welfare Act, or AWA. In the case of spider monkeys, though, the primary stipulation put forth by the AWA relates only to cage or enclosure size. A spider monkey is considered a "brachiating" species, meaning an animal that uses its arms and legs to swing from place to place. According to the AWA, enclosures for brachiating animals must meet certain basic measurements in floor space and height, depending upon the size and weight of the primate. The active spider monkey requires ample living space, with plenty of room to move freely.
State and Municipal Regulations
Outside of the AWA, each state is permitted to establish its own laws regarding the ownership of exotic pets such as the spider monkey. For example, keeping a spider monkey as a pet is permitted without a license in some states, such as Alabama, while other states, like Maine, require a license. Many other states, such as California, New York and New Mexico, prohibit spider monkeys as pets.
A listing of the regulations for your particular state may be found by checking the official state government website. Some agencies and organizations also provide links to the laws and regulations of all states. Two such organizations are the Animal Legal & Historical Center and Born Free USA. For local regulations, you will need to check the website of your city or county or visit a local government office or public library.
Spider monkeys are difficult to handle as adults, require constant attention and stimulation, are extremely costly to keep and are more comfortable when living in the wild or in a natural setting with other spider monkeys. Most wildlife and animal welfare organizations, therefore, discourage keeping spider monkeys and other primates as pets. If your state and local governments allow you to have a pet spider monkey, seek guidance from reputable authorities and licensed animal handlers and pet dealers. The World Animal Foundation and the University of Wisconsin both distribute helpful fact sheets and local zoos generally provide good referrals and solid information..
- University of Wisconsin Primate Info Net: Spider Monkey Captive Care Guide
- Animal Legal & Historical Center: Map of State Exotic Pet/Possession of Wild Animal Laws and Administrative Regulations
- USDA: Animal Welfare Act Fact Sheet
- Animal Welfare Institute: Non-Human Primates
- National Geographic: Spider Monkey
spider monkey image by Grigory Kubatyan from Fotolia.com
Jeff Katz has been a professional librarian, educator, historian, writer and editor for almost 20 years. He holds a Master of Library Science degree from the University of British Columbia and a BA degree in Classical Studies from Hunter College of the City University of New York.