Keeping a monkey as a pet is a controversial issue. Celebrity owners, and the cuteness of the smaller monkey breeds, may inspire monkey lovers to keep one at home, but vets and the Humane Society of the United States suggest giving it a great deal of thought. Finding a breed -- and breeder -- that suits your situation requires a lot of research into all aspects of a primate's life.
The Legal Situation
In 1975, the United States made it illegal to import monkeys to be kept as pets, meaning the primate pet trade is based on breeding programs using monkeys brought into the U.S. before then. Kentucky-based veterinarian Craig J. Blair, who treats pet monkeys, suggests at Pet Monkey Info that potential owners consider that the pet primate trade involves keeping animals in seclusion and taking day-old babies from mothers. Some states, like Louisiana, prohibit keeping monkeys as pets, so if you're thinking about buying a monkey, investigate the legal situation in your state first. Pet Monkey Info points out that some states and cities are changing laws to ban pet monkeys at "an unprecedented rate." States that do allow primate breeds to be kept as pets usually allow only the smaller breeds, such as capuchins.
Small Pet Monkey Breeds
Chimpanzees are not ideal pets; their enormous strength makes chimps a serious danger to any human. The smaller breeds monkey breeds are considered by some to make more suitable pets. In the TV show "Friends," Ross had a capuchin called Marcel; this breed is prized for its intelligence. His body measures between 12 to 22 inches and his tail is about the same length. He weighs between 4 and 15 pounds and lives 35 to 45 years. The squirrel monkey is of similar size, weight and longevity. If size is an issue, you might consider a marmoset or a tamarin -- or even a miniature-sized pygmy marmoset, who has a total length, including tail, of about 10 inches. Guenons and macaques are larger than capuchins and squirrel monkeys, consequently requiring more space.
Make sure you find a reputable breeder who has a USDA license. Primatestore advises you buy directly from a breeder and never through a broker. Also, it strongly advises against buying from a breeder prepared to sell you a monkey younger than 8 weeks, especially if the infant must be shipped by air. Primate breeders point out that monkeys are social animals in the wild, so it's preferable to buy more than one. This is especially true if you're going to leave your monkey alone while you're at work. Buying a pet monkey requires a lot of homework about breeds and the monkey's physical living requirements, as well as an understanding of what is need for his psychological welfare.
All primate breeds are prone to sudden displays of aggression, regardless of size, especially at the age of sexual maturity. Debbie Leahy at the Humane Society of the United States says this is when a monkey may destroy everything in the house and bounce off the walls in fits of agitation. She also points out that the Humane Society is concerned about the popularity of macaque monkeys because they carry the herpes B virus, which has an 80 percent fatality rate in humans but is harmless to the macaque.
Based in London, Eleanor McKenzie has been writing lifestyle-related books and articles since 1998. Her articles have appeared in the "Palm Beach Times" and she is the author of numerous books published by Hamlyn U.K., including "Healing Reiki" and "Pilates System." She holds a Master of Arts in informational studies from London University.