Monkey Business: Is A Monkey The Right Pet For You? ...by Bill Knell
As a young teen living on the West Coast of Florida I was like a fish out of water. I moved there from New York with my parents. There were many things that took some getting used to and I was not a fan of the heat or bugs. Whoever invented air conditioning has my eternal gratitiude! Then there were things that helped me tolerate any negatives. The casual lifestyle and dress, the beaches and the fishing to name a few. One the things I really loved about Florida was that it lacked many of the rules and restrictions that East Coasters were and still are cursed with today. Even in the early 1970s you could not walk into a NYC or Long Island pet shop and purchase a monkey. However, you could do that in Florida.
Before the government decided that they would make all the decisions for us, there was a time you could decide many things for yourself. That included what type of pet you might want to purchase or adopt. Sadly, there were some people who spolied that for honest, sincere and thoughtful pet owners... People who left their dogs perpetually tied to a tree, kept an alligator in the pool, had a tiger in their apartment or used their home as an animal rescue center keeping hundreds of poorly fed cats in a totally unacceptable environment... Now I am not saying that there should not be laws against keeping certain types of wild or exotic animals as pets. What I want to point out is if the government is forbidding people from owning animals because they are endangered or in the opinion of some "expert" might be psychologically damaged by living with people... Then they are barking up the wrong tree.
As a fourteen year old boy I walked into a Florida pet shop and saw a squirrel monkey lanquishing in a small cage. This was not a case of neglect or abuse. This type of thing is often done by pet stores as a hook to get you to buy one of their more pricey or hard to sell selections. So said my dad and he was correct. Another week went by and the monkey was still there when I returned. At $25 it did not cost a fortune and that price meant the store wanted it gone. It was a time when few tourists were in town and that made it harder to sell. Most locals were older and did not want the hassle of keeping a Primate as a pet. Besides, the monkey was not good at self promotion. It had barely been weaned when someone took it from its mother, gave it some shots and sold it to the pet store for resale. As a result the animal was shy, skiddish and frightened.
I went to the local library and did some research on squirrel monkeys before I finally purchased him two weeks after my first visit to the pet shop. My parents were good with my purchase because I had always been a responsible pet owner having had a dog, birds and guinea pigs. The dog died before we moved. The other pets were adopted to neighbors who already knew and liked them because it was just not possible to bring them along. I named my monkey Sam and brought him home to a large cage that we kept in a Florida Room with jalousied windows on the side of our house. It faced an unused lot that was overgrown and looked like a jungle. That room could be cut off from A/C if necessary, but was heated for the short period of time that our area experienced any chilly weather.
Squirrel Monkeys are easy to feed, not very expensive to keep and not hard to train if you train them to do things they enjoy doing. However, they require a lot of companionship and mental stimulation. Fortunately, Sam liked me. He tried to bite me at first so I pinched him a few times until he learned not to be so aggressive. This was only possible because I got him so young. I also put him in his cage when he misbehaved. The idea was to use conditioning and repetitive discipline as tools to have the animal behave. I was the head of this primate group, not him. I was the provider of food, water and shelter. Once he figured all this out he learned faster. In the beginning I used a leash. After a few months it wasn't necessary. He was allowed to roam freely under our supervision and even played outside while we had barbeques or went in our pool. He used the empty lot next store as an exercise yard climbing the trees and chasing birds and squirrels. He also used it as a potty so I guess you could say he was potty trained for the most part.
Dogs and monkeys are sworn enemies. You can't really have both without stressing out one or both pets. In reality Monkeys are jealous. I strongly suggest that if you plan on owning a monkey of this type you avoid having other pets. Most Monkeys that are not well trained or kindly treated will likely get mean or moody as they transition to adulthood. Constantly caged monkeys will pee on you or throw feces at you. They may also attack you or destroy things they see are important to you if given the opportunity.
As a rule Monkeys are smart. They learn fast and are great escape artists. That is why training is important. I always left Sam's cage door open once he was trained. I did close the doors to that room. He learned to close or open his cage door as it suited him. After a while he learned how to open and close all the doors that lead to the back yard so he could go outside to play or do his business. But he would never go unless one of us gave him our permission. Doors to his room were padlocked when we went out without him. Owning a squirrel monkey is easy and hard... satisfying and frustrating... fun and annoying... but it is ethical??? Is it detrimental to the animal??? You will have to decide for yourself unless your city or state has already done that for you. The truth is that people are going to own monkeys regardless.
Pet Monkeys In China - Abused, Shaved and Punished To Perform (to impress owner's friends)
In China it's illegal to own Monkeys, but thousands of Chinese own "Pocket Monkeys" which are usually purchased as baby Pygmy Mamosets, Capuchins or Resus Monkeys. They do not treat them well. They tie their arms so they will learn to practice walking on twos instead of all fours which is painful and unnatural for them. They shave off their fur and dress them in clothes. You get the picture. These animals are status symbols in China where most authorities look the other way and ignore the rich and important people who own them. However, if they or responsible pet owners did not buy the monkeys they would be sold to research labs and condemned to a life spent being subjected to physically or emotionally damaging experiments while living in a tiny cage devoid of love or companionship.
Each year tens of thousands of monkeys are shipped to research facilities worldwide and many orders for more from these same torture centers remain unfilled. Given that fact it is hard to be concerned about the morality of owning a monkey as a pet compared to the same animal ending up as a lab rat. Most people I know who have owned a monkey did not mistreat it, or shave it, or beat or keep it in an improper environment. Once again, if you have the legal right to own one, you have to decide if it is something you should do or not. Before you do anything, do lots of research and buy from a reputable breeder if you decide a monkey is the right pet for you. No more $25 prices. You will spend $3000-$6000 depending on the type of monkey you choose. Most people prefer the Capuchins for their ability to learn tricks and behaviors. If tiny is your plan Pgymy Mamosets are finger sized as babies and hand sized as adults. Squirrel and Spider Monkeys require more time and effort than most people care to invest in a pet.
Take the time to research the popular primates that are available as pets. Be aware that most information that's available about primates as pets is written by those who oppose it. You will want to read material written by actual monkey owners. If you decide on a Pygmy Marmouset, you will have to purchase two. They are unable to survive very long without a companion. You also have to consider the fact that monkeys and kids do not mix well unless you can train your kids as good as your monkey. If you decide to take the leap of primate ownership with children in the house I strongly suggest you keep the animal in it's cage when you cannot closely watch it. Padlock the cage. It is unlikely that a monkey would hurt a child. However, it takes time for primates to learn acceptable behavior verses unacceptible. They also must learn who are the good guys and who they should fear. Never shove a monkey in a stranger's face. And don't kiss them. Monkeys show affection in other ways. That why research is important for prospective primate owners.
Tips For Monkey Owners...
Overall, monkeys have more things in common than they have differences in terms of behavior. That's why you can and should train them very young. Some breeders will handle some of the basics for you. However, you will be the owner and must establish your own presence as the animal's alpha and teach it your rules. The good news is that monkeys are very intelligent and quick learners.
Positive reinforcement is preferred, but if an animal bites or tries to attack you will need to pinch them on the buttocks and cage them for short periods to let them know a particular behavior is not acceptable. They will test every human in the household to find out where they fit in the social order. Never hit them in the face or on their limbs.
Diapers are a good idea. Some monks can be trained to poop in certain areas, but controlled urination is a tough or impossible nut to crack. Diapers also dissuade monkeys from poop tossing. That is a favorite way for them to display dissatisfaction. Male juveniles may use urination streams for the same purpose. All male juveniles will mark their territory and try to exert domination with urination. Monks will pee on your hand when you extend it if they are moody and most regularly masturbate. Again, diapers easily address and solve these problems.
In nature monks have very complicated and specific social orders which appear to be hard wired into their instincts. Although adaptable, they will always fall back to instinct if they get confused or frustrated. Training them early will help them transition from infants to juveniles to adults. As they become juveniles you will notice many changes. They will be larger, stronger and more aggressive. If properly trained those things won't matter that much. Giving your pet simple tasks to perform will help keep them from doing bad things. Monks love to touch things they should leave alone.
Knowing your pet's environmental needs is essential. Monkeys need physical and mental stimulation. Cage size should be adequate to make it feel like a home, not a trap. Monks sleep best off the ground in a suspended hammock. Most monkeys bred as pets and kept in captivity adapt to spending more time on the ground because there are no predators around to attack them, but still prefer to climb on improvised branches and enjoy jumping from one platform to another spaced at different heights.
Unlike dogs, cats and birds they do not need a constant source of food. Water bottles that attach tightly to cages should be supplied. In the wild most get their water from the food they eat or rivers and streams. Unlike apes, monkeys can swim. Bananas, coconuts, fresh leaves and grapes are favorite foods. They will eat spiders or bugs, but do not require or care much for meat, chicken or fish. In the wild monks forage for food for hours and eat a lot. In captivity they need less and should be fed less. They will overeat and obesity is a problem for many monkeys.
Feeding them four times daily using smaller portions presented in a bowl or on a plate is preferred, but a larger portion can be fed twice a day if that fits your schedule better. They will waste more food using the twice a day method. Do not use paper or plastic throwaway dinnerware. Although Monks are not as messy as birds, they will make a mess. You can purchase Monkey Chow online which is excellent if your leave food for your monk while you are at work. Amazon has good prices on Primate Dry Food.
Always locate a primate friendly Veterinarian before you add a monk to your home for health checks, vaccinations and such. Have emergency numbers available, but educate yourself about monkey health problems. Most respond to simple home remedies. Practice responsible ownership. Monks are expensive and stolen animals sell quickly at high prices. Add extra security to your home, and a camera and hidden camera to the area where your monk is kept. Sadly, most monkey thefts from private owners are by relatives.
Do not allow children to play alone with your monk or handle it roughly. Monks like to be groomed and gently petted in soft strokes on their heads. Kissing is not natural for them and will upset your pet. Infants are easily upset and stressed. Be sure they have a stuffed toy larger than they are for them to cling to. Hold infants or use a carry pouch to keep them close to you as often as possible. If they begin making a sound like a short cry, they are calling for their mom. Male or Female, you now have that job so do it well.
Read 13 Monkey Facts
Read Get The Right Monkey Cage
Read Capuchin Monkeys Make Great Pets
Read Monkey Mistakes