In the early 20th century, domestic capuchin monkeys were best known as the companions of organ grinders. These South American natives weigh between 9 and 12 pounds at maturity, just a little larger than newborn humans. They're cute, but capuchin monkeys have needs that can't necessarily be met in captivity. Major animal organizations, including the American Veterinary Medical Association, do not support monkey ownership because, among other reasons, these primates can transmit infectious diseases.
Capuchins usually have cream-colored fur around the shoulders, neck and face, and the rest of their hair is dark brown. A capuchin has a tail as long as his body, between 12 and 22 inches. His face is pink or white, and he has dark hands with long fingers.
Before bringing home your capuchin home, find out whether it's legal to keep a monkey as a pet in your state. Many states ban pet primates, and others require permits. If you keep a monkey in a state that doesn't allow them, or if you fail to obtain a permit, not only are you breaking the law but you could run into major problems when your pet requires veterinary care. State-licensed veterinarians can't treat illegal monkeys, and they might be required to report you.
Your monkey's personality changes once he reaches sexual maturity, about age 5. He might have been charming and easy to care for, but no longer. You can diaper young monkeys, but adolescent capuchins won't keep diapers on. When bored or annoyed, they might start throwing feces, to name just one inappropriate behavior. They require a lot more time and attention than conventional pets do.
Feeding Your Monkey
It's important to feed your monkey just the right amount of food -- not too little, and certainly not too much. Monkeys waste food if they're given too much, according to the University of Wisconsin's National Primate Research. It recommends feeding commercial canned and dry diets designed for monkeys, along with fruits and vegetables cut into pieces small enough for capuchin hands. For example, several times a week you might give your pet two small slices or banana, 1/8 of an apple or several peanuts. You can give your monkey cooked meats, but not more than one teaspoon as a treat. Avoid feeding monkeys any dairy products, candy or other sweets. Don't give your pet any iron-enriched products, such as certain human cereals.
No matter how much your love your monkey and how domestic he appears, always remembers he's a wild animal. Aggressive behavior in capuchins occurs fairly often, even in older monkeys who had never displayed such tendencies. The American Veterinary Medical Association warns that monkeys are natural hosts of herpes B, which can cause fatal encephalomyelitis in people. Monkeys also commonly develop latent, lifelong infections that can be transmitted to people via scratches and bites.
Although wild capuchins live 15 to 25 years, captive monkeys can reach 45 or older. Depending on your age when you acquire your pet, that means a young monkey might outlive you or your ability to care for it. Have a plan in place for someone to care for your monkey if you die before your capuchin. You might want to consult your attorney when preparing your will and making estate plans.
- World Animal Foundation: Capuchin Fact Sheet
- National Geographic: The Perils of Keeping Monkeys as Pets
- USA Today: Pet Capuchin Monkeys Can Turn on Their Owners, Experts Warn
- Rainforest Alliance: Capuchin Monkey (Cebus Capucinus)
- University of Wisconsin National Primate Research Center: Capuchin Monkey Basic Information and Diet
- American Veterinary Medical Association: Re: Docket No. DOT-OST-2012-0098, Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Disability in Air Travel -- Draft Technical Assistance Manual
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Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.