Keeping monkeys as pets to be banned under government plans

11 December 2020, 23:59

Keeping capuchin monkeys as pets would be banned in England under the proposals
Keeping capuchin monkeys as pets would be banned in England under the proposals. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Keeping monkeys as pets will be banned in England to end the “immense suffering” caused by the trade, under new government proposals.

Buying, selling and breeding pet primates will see individuals face significant fines under the proposed legislation, with some species being traded online for up to £1,000.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said up to 5,000 of the animals are believed to be kept as pets in the UK outside of licensed zoos.

Primates, which include capuchins, lemurs, marmosets, squirrel monkeys and tamarins, are highly intelligent mammals that require open living spaces, warmth and social contact.

The RSPCA has previously argued the animals' complex needs cannot be met in a home environment, a call recently backed by the government.

If the proposal becomes law, it would become an offence to keep primates as pets in England.

Lemurs are some of the most commonly held primates in the UK
Lemurs are some of the most commonly held primates in the UK. Picture: PA

Anyone keeping them without a zoo licence would have to obtain a new specialist private primate keeper licence to ensure they are meeting the required high welfare standards.

The legislation would also see new welfare restrictions introduced on the breeding and transfer of primates.

Members of the public will be able to have their say on the changes as part of an eight-week consultation launched on Saturday.

Animal Welfare Minister Lord Goldsmith said: "Primates are hugely intelligent and socially complex animals. When they are confined in tiny cages, often alone and with little stimulation, their lives are a misery.

"It's important that we take action to prevent the suffering caused to them when they are kept as pets and so I am delighted that we are moving a big step closer towards banning the practice."

Marmosets are the most commonly held primates in the UK, with capuchins, squirrel monkeys, lemurs and tamarins also among the most common species.

Marmosets are the most popular primate pets in the UK
Marmosets are the most popular primate pets in the UK. Picture: PA

Dorset-based animal sanctuary Monkey World said it had taken in more than 100 of the mammals from the UK pet trade, with 78 rescued in the past 10 years and more than 100 on its waiting list.

Monkey World director Dr Alison Cronin said: "Current laws are not protecting the monkeys from abuse or neglect, as they arrive at the park malnourished, with rickets, mobility problems and psychologically damaged as a result of living in solitary confinement, inside people's houses.

"We are asking people to take part in this consultation to signal that this trade is unacceptable and the current legislation is not working. The laws must change."

Dr Ros Clubb, senior scientific manager at the RSPCA animal charity, said the ban "can't come soon enough".

"Just like humans, primates can become depressed without adequate stimulation," Dr Clubb said.

"They need a spacious and enriched environment that challenges their intelligent brains and allows for them to behave like primates should.

"But, sadly, our inspectors are still seeing shocking situations where monkeys are cooped up in birdcages, fed fast food, sugary drinks or even Class A drugs, deprived of companions of their own kind, living in dirt and squalor and suffering from disease."