In a previous article I explained how I bought a pet baby squirrel monkey in Florida during the early 1970s. I purchased him for $25 from a pet shop where he languished unsold for several weeks. The shop owner had overestimated the market for Monkeys in the St Petersburg, Florida, area in those days. At least a dozen people told me that buying a monkey was a cruel thing to do and that they should be left in their natural habitat. That same argument is still used today and is my first example of a Monkey Mistake.
It was too late for the monkey I named Sam. He was likely ripped from his mother when he was just three days to a week old to be sure he would not bond too closely with her, then hand fed by humans. He was bred in captivity, so he never lived in his natural habitat. Wild female monkeys with infants are often killed by poachers because it's easier to take their babies away. Before you fall into the trap of becoming over emotional about taking monkey babies away from their moms consider these facts…
Monkeys live in highly structured groups where there are dominant males and females. A dominant female or one with many allies may decide to kidnap a baby from a monkey mom that's recently given birth because they don't have one of their own yet or lost one. Without mother's milk it will probably die. In other cases a monkey mom may seriously injure or accidently kill her baby because she is tired, hadn't had enough to eat or were just angry over something.
The second big Monkey Mistake is purchasing a primate without researching the specific type that interests you. There are many different monkey types. In some cases it's like the difference between a parakeet and a parrot in terms of intelligence and life expectancy. A squirrel monkey might live 15-20 years if cared for properly. A pet capuchin monkey can live forty years.
Right now baby macaque rhesus monkeys are extremely popular in Asia. The problem with that is the Herpes virus is naturally occurring in them. Wild macaques in Florida are descended from monkeys used in Tarzan movies eighty years ago. Today, they are spreading Herpes to humans. Macaques are cute, very smart and easy to train. However, the risk is just too great to take one on as a pet.
All monkeys are wild animals and most are driven by pure instinct. None are considered domesticated at this point. They are intelligent, but some are not intelligent enough to defeat an instinct to bite or scratch their owner if they misread something their caretaker does as a threat. Monkeys are not meant to be kept as pets just like alligators are not meant to be kept in a backyard pool or pond.
Unlike domesticated dogs which tend to quickly adjust to their new environment, monkeys have to be adjusted. If this is not done when they are babies you are out of luck. Monkeys obviously can't talk, or sign like some apes. They will let you know how they feel by exhibiting various behaviors. Our next Monkey Mistake is misunderstanding a monkey.
Monkeys do not smile. If they appear to be smiling that is a fear grimace. It's like a fear overload that makes them freeze in place. They probably will not attack in that mode. Signs preceding an attack will be things like geckering, which sounds like a series of fast clicks, or moving rapidly back and forth with vocalizations. Some attacks may be sudden with no warning.
Squirrel monkeys will tend to bite a hand or arm, then move quickly back and forth so you can't easily grab their bodies. If that happens you may still be able to grab their head from behind and hold on until they stop biting. If you control their head, you control their whole body. Next, grab their body and pinch their butts or lower backs hard. Keeping a collar and leash on your monkey helps you to establish dominance and reminds your pet who is in control.
Once monkeys hit the juvenile stage and hormones kick in they will never stop biting if left untrained. In many cases biting is a sign of frustration or anger, but Monkeys bite for many reasons. It's part of their culture. A soft bite might be for tasting. They can be tolerated. Harder bites must never be tolerated because they might be to show dominance or because your pet is angry.
Monkeys of all types have an instinctive need for their moms and a social structure where other females take care of them when mom is unavailable. You will not be able to replace those things. The best you can do is provide comfort by holding your pet when it seeks emotional support. Physical substitutes in the form of a stuffed toy and security blanket can also help.
One of the worst Monkey Mistakes is trying to turn a baby monkey into a little human. In China baby pocket macaque monkeys are all the rage among the upper middle class. These intelligent monks are delivered when they are just a few days old. They are diapered and dressed in clothes. Some Chinese families own two or more pocket monkeys. They live 15-25 years.
Once they start walking, the baby macaques hands are tied behind their backs as training for bipedal walking. Little weighted backpacks are placed on them to help achieve balance. This can be painful for an animal designed to walk on all fours and does damage to the Monk's body over time. While some monkeys walk bipedal style on occasion, it's rare and that's their choice.
These lonely baby monkeys constantly call for their moms, so tiny pacifiers (nippies) are placed loosely around their necks with a ribbon. The monks will put it in their mouths when they feel insecure. This damages their teeth and encourages unnatural behavior. They are taught commands through the use of food deprivation and rewards.
Monkeys can be taught simple commands like dogs. They learn fast, but always remember that they do not really understand human language. When they make a mess, and all monkeys do that, don't give them a long speech. ‘Just say No’ as the saying goes. Monkeys communicate more through movements and gestures than anything else.
Chinese monkey owners shave their pets and sometimes dock their tails to make them look more human. This is cruel and detrimental to a monk's mental health. Shaving, dressing, shoes, teaching behaviors by withholding food, giving them human food and intoxicants, and allowing children or other pets to bully them will cause a monk to either lash out or develop abnormal behaviors.
Lacking the ability to change their situation and be treated like monkeys, pet monks may begin to bite or scratch themselves, display repetitive movements and hide in corners or other places where they feel safe. At that point they may refuse to move and begin geckering if you try to move them. Monkeys may not recall specific incidents, but they will remember overall abuse.
Pet squirrel monkeys and common marmosets are less complicated and less prone to human abuse. Whereas macaques spend months with their moms and can learn to play games or load their favorite videos on phones and tablets, the others spend a much shorter time with their moms and will only learn behaviors that suit their needs or provide some sort of satisfaction for them.
Squirrel monkeys can teach themselves how to eat or drink from a cup. Some place food in the cup for later and carry it around with them. There would be no reason to shave them because they have different coats than macques. They do not need pacifiers and they are not prone (generally speaking) to bipedal walking. Squirrel monkeys are funny, uncomplicated monks.
What about diapers? Well, I will not label those a Monkey Mistake when it comes to primates. Some vets and breeders dislike monkey diapers, but none have provided any actual evidence of a health risk. Some macaques that adjust well to captivity learn to use the toilet (no, I'm not kidding), but that requires a lot of reinforcement and most wear diapers at night anyway.
Some non-diapered monkeys will choose a specific spot to pee and poop making it easy to place a wee wee pad there and avoid diaper use. Others will use a sink or bath tub, but that's not very sanitary for humans. The thing that will test the sanity of any monkey owner is the time when their pet becomes a juvenile. If you have abused a monkey, watch out! It's get back time.
Poorly adjusted monkeys want out when they are juveniles. If they cannot get out, they will begin the type of abnormal behaviors discussed earlier or become vicious. Even well adjusted monks will be a handful. They will establish themselves in your home's social order by attacking other pets or stealing food and personal items from their owners.
Male monks will masturbate and females will become a little too affectionate on occasion. Box sexes may pee on strangers or throw their poop. Monks do not react well to strangers. Never allow a visitor to touch or pet a monkey when they first meet. Monkeys will definitely test their owners to find out what they can get away with.
Although many do it to show them off, another big Monkey Mistake is taking a monkey to a park or anywhere other animals may be. Monkeys instinctively pick at the grass and ground foraging for food. If they happen to ingest something another animal or bird has pooped on they can develop any number of diseases and get worms.
Squirrel monkeys are very vulnerable to being attacked from above and killed by raptors. If you take them to the vet or elsewhere, use a pet carrier. A leash is not enough and allows the animal too much freedom of movement outside of your dwelling. Monkeys are natural born escape artists so be sure to have an identification collar on your pet or have it chipped by a vet if possible.
The good news is that well adjusted squirrel monkeys are playful and fun. Getting them that way requires a lot of monkey time. If you plan on getting a monk and throwing it in small cage or pet carrier, forget the whole thing. Just think about the annoying neighbor who does the animal world a favor by adopting a shelter dog, then chains it to a tree in their backyard where it constantly barks until they finally play with it.
Monkeys require mental stimulation and socialization. They might live in groups of 50 or more in the wild. In the case of common marmosets, studies show that loneliness can kill. They literally cannot live by themselves and need a mate. If you can't get two, try another type of monkey.
Monkeys aren't just smart, they are extremely fast. A monkey reacts to almost anything twice as fast as a human. They are instinctively imprinted to react without having to think about it. Squirrel monkeys can move at up to 22 miles per hour for short periods on the ground to escape predators and you! They also jump very high. Keeping them collared and leashed indoors can help you avoid seeing your monkey break an arm or leg.
More squirrel monkeys are killed by predatory birds than anything else. Neighborhood cats and dogs can and will attack them. More good reasons to keep your monk indoors. In my case owning a monkey was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. Check out monkey videos online and pay attention to comments by their owners before you make any decision.
Read 13 Monkey Facts
Read Get The Right Monkey Cage
Read Capuchin Monkeys Make Great Pets