Thomas Shahan / Flickr
The business isn’t so cute up-close
There is a huge, and growing, illegal trade for exotic animals.
Keeping exotic animals as pets is dangerous for us in more ways than one.
Taking these animals out of the wild and into our homes is cruel, and can lead to some serious health issues on the part of the animal.
Many of us, when we were children, probably nursed some dream of someday owning an exotic pet. Whether that was a tiger, a bear, or (thanks to one particularly curious pet and a man in a yellow hat) a monkey, we likely grew out of it as we grew older, and discovered that those types of animals need to stay in the wild.
A surprisingly steadily-growing problem
While it may seem obvious that wild animals should stay in the wild, there is admittedly a certain intrigue in owning an exotic pet and keeping it in your home. As cute and exciting as that may be, most of us ignore those wishes because we realize that exotic animals shouldn’t be kept as pets. Not everyone, apparently, can resist the charms of such animals.
There’s a majorly expanding (and illegal) exotic pet trade happening all over the world, and primates of all shapes and sizes are falling victim to it. Currently, there are over 5,000 primates in private homes in the UK. The Labour Party, in an attempt to curb this, has recently announced its plan to make training or keeping primates in private homes illegal.
To maintain supply for the steadily-growing demand for exotic pets, there has been a massive increase in poaching levels across the world, leading to a serious strain on the population of animals in the wild (like Madagascar’s radiated tortoises, or Africa’s gray parrots). Millions of exotic animals like these are sold every year.
They’re more dangerous than they look
Most of us would certainly agree that walking up to a gorilla in the wild would probably not end so well for the person involved. But as pets, primates seem like they would be the perfect companions: cute, intelligent, and generally loveable. If we cared for them and gave them love and attention, we should expect to receive that love and attention back—right?
Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Primates, unlike cats and dogs, aren’t domesticated, and they will act as such. (You can take a monkey out of the wild, but you can’t take the wild out of a monkey.) Years after they’re adopted, they can snap, seemingly out of nowhere, and their outbursts can be exceptionally dangerous for anyone who happens to be nearby.
We can’t expect to overcome thousands of years of evolution in a single lifespan of care. Aggression in males and competition amongst females are natural parts of their lives, and we cannot erase those behaviors simply by taking them into our homes.
Additionally, though perhaps surprisingly, owning primates as pets can pose a very real medical threat. Many new infectious diseases are transmitted from wildlife to humans, though experts don’t always know exactly where a particular disease originates. So we may be putting ourselves at a variety of risks simply by being near these creatures.
It’s crueler than you think
Giving exotic animals a new home isn’t as kind as people would like to think it is. Compared to their natural habitats, our homes offer poor conditions that don’t match what they’re used to, and it can lead to some serious health problems. They can develop skin conditions, respiratory diseases, and suffer from general nutritional deficiencies.
Their physical development is also very much impaired in these kinds of spaces. These animals have evolved to live and move across wide swaths of land, and their physical development is severely limited within the minimal amounts of space that they are given in our homes.
It’s not just the animals’ physical health that’s impacted. Taking primates out of their social networks can socially cripple them for life; they’re social animals, and they need those social bonds with their fellow-creatures. Human owners just aren’t the same, and most people only adopt one monkey for a pet.
You can take a monkey out of the wild, but you can’t take the wild out of a monkey.
That is, of course, if they reach their destination alive. Many exotic animals suffer while being transported from their habitats to their new owners, and even if they don’t die during transport, they suffer from cruel conditions while they’re being moved.
Many primates in the wild (about 60%) are now facing extinction. If you want to purchase a monkey for a pet, you likely love the animal very much and want it to have a reasonably good life; but you can help them much better by supporting things like conservation efforts.
A deeper dive — Related reading from the 101:
- The US is neglecting its endangered plants I Science 101
- Endangered plants don’t get nearly as much attention as endangered animals; read about why that’s a huge problem for the plants we’re watching die out.
- Top Projects that Help Combat Climate Change I Science 101
- If you’re interested in learning more about how to help animals in the wild, take a look at this article where you can learn how to save the world they live in.
- It Turns Out that Gorillas Grieve for the Dead in Some Unexpected Ways I Science 101
- New research reveals surprising ways that gorillas demonstrate that they actually grieve for their lost family.