Too many people see cute monkeys of all sorts as wonderful pets.

They tend to watch the trained chimps on TV and movies, and say: Oh, how wonderful.

The dirty little secret is that too often these stage monkeys are pre pubertal teenagers. When the male chimps hit puberty, watch out.

Testosterone is the hormone of aggression, and one has to realize that many monkey species have an Alpha male who is in charge of the clan. So younger males tend to be aggresssive, figuring those who win will inherit the girls. And those cute chimps/monkeys become aggressive: Biting, hitting, pushing and even mounting those smaller or weaker than they are.

So few experts were surprised when a “tame” 14 year old chimp severely mauled a visitor in a Connecticut home.

“That chimp in Stamford, 14 years old, starting to become an adult, was an accident waiting to happen,” Dancho said. “Elephants, chimps, mountain lions, no one should have them as pets.”

Inevitably, when a chimp gets to the age Travis was, owners realize they can’t handle them anymore, he said. But zoos won’t take a chimp that was raised with humans because they have trouble adjusting to life with other chimps, he said, and most often end up in research facilities.

There is a question if the owner had given Xanax to the chimp before the mauling incident; most people use Xanax for panic attacks (it works quickly) and it calms them, but like other medicines that calm people (such as alcohol), it also can release inhibitions, making a small percentage of people aggressive (think nasty drunk) .

But Travis the Chimp’s problem was not his temper but his testosterone. Female chimps can also be aggressive,  especially if they or their baby is threatened.

The Primate Rescue Center is even more blunt:

Unfortunately, the very reason that the Primate Rescue Center exists is because monkeys make REALLY poor pets (despite media portrayals to the contrary!). Primates are very long-lived (30+ years for a macaque, 50+ for a chimpanzee), and are dependent on humans only for a very brief window as infants—until three to five years of age at most.

Ah, but one only has to google to find ads for poor infant monkeys that were abandoned by their moms. I want to help.

But PRC corrects this claim too:

All primates are very social creatures, … forcibly removing them from their mothers … (as is the norm in the pet trade) …often results in aberrant behaviors as the animals mature…. Clever dealers skirt the issue by insisting that the infant you’re being offered has been “rejected” at birth—a highly unlikely occurrence in the primate world!

Some baby monkeys in Asia are sold as pets after mom has been killed (0ften by loggers, or by dealers for profit). This illegal trade goes way beyond monkeys, and many animals die from maltreatment before “adopted” as pets.

As for monkeys, after I started to work in Africa, all the cliches about cute monkeys quickly were replaced by reality. You see, in our area, baboon packs would raid fields when the corn was ready to harvest, hurting any woman and children who tried to protect the crops.

But the corn crop was the poor people’s main source of food.

Only a full grown man could stop these packs, and alas too many of the grown men were away working in the mines.

So our priest would go out and would shoot a few baboons, placing their dead bodies around the crops, to warn the others of the penalty of stealing the food.

So yes, in this I agree with the Animal Rights folks: keep the monkeys in the jungle.

Adopt a “companion animal” from the many abandoned dogs and cats at your local animal shelter instead.

And remember:

The bottom line is: if primates made good pets, there would be no need for the PRC (or any of the other dozen or so primate sanctuaries in the U.S.).


Nancy Reyesis a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. She blogs at MakaipaBlog

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