Why So Closed to the Idea of Primates as Pets, Monica?

December 01, 2013  •  1 Comment

Pancho, NicaraguaPancho, Nicaragua (2013)A white-faced capuchin, Pancho was encountered in Mirafor, Nicaragua. He was kept, surprisingly, at an ecologically themed finca (ranch) -- on a chain, of course. After discussions with Pancho's "owners," they said they would take him to a rescue center so he could be integrated with other monkeys. Many, many monkeys are kept in similar conditions in Central America. Their mothers are killed, and the orphans are then sold into the pet trade.


I have gotten this question many, many times over the years, but the last month it's been coming rapid fire.  


Three weeks ago, a friend told me about a monkey he'd seen at a place called, appropriately enough, "The Monkey Bar." This is a little place on a back road near a beach town in Goa.  He told me about the monkey not as some coincidental, "Wow-did-you-see-the-monkey?" kinda thing, but because he knew... about me.


So we went there one day, posing like patrons with a hankering for thali but in reality coming to check this shit out. On a mission. My friend asked me not to cause a scene, but why tell ME about it if you didn't want something to happen? Though on the other hand, at this point of my life, I've learned that sometimes being a stinker just isn't effective if you want to make an actual change. As they say, there are moments when one catches more flies with honey than with vinegar.


Actually, in India, as well as other countries, it isn't legal to keep a primate as a pet. My own feelings are pretty strict on this issue: I don't believe monkeys should live with humans. I think monkeys or apes should be with other monkeys or apes, free-ranging, in the forest, undisturbed and respected and appreciated from a distance, giving them their own space. If they cannot be in the forest, then we owe them something different. But being a pet is not an option.


Never does the story begin in a pretty way. Most female primates, being the phenomenal mothers that they are, will protect their babies at nearly any cost. And so to get a baby monkey or ape to sell as a pet, you have to kill mom, and whoever else in the extended family stands in your way.


That's just the first atrocity.



But let's say that someone already has the monkey or ape. That the baby fell from a tree and the mother abandoned it and so you could pick it up and take it home and raise it as a pet. Is that the best option?


Also no.


In the ten-plus years that I've been working with primates, I have NEVER - not an exaggeration - seen a completely psychologically intact primate raised by humans.  Even if their human loved them, and even if they really loved their human. Here are some very specific reasons why. (I've changed their names to protect their identities, but you get the drift.)


1. Lindy

In a somewhat perverse scientific experiment, Lindy the chimpanzee was taken from her mother as a very young infant (no more than a few weeks old, if I remember correctly). The idea was to raise her without any chimp influence, in other words, entirely as a "human." She was loved and cuddled; she ate meals at the table; she slept with her human brother and sister; she wore pretty clothes. As she got older, Lindy made her own drinks and signed in ASL when she wanted food.  When she approached sexual maturity, something curious happened: she showed signs of being attracted to human males ... but for some reason, human men were uncomfortable when she presented her swollen genitalia for sex, or when she attacked a human female that she regarded as competition. When Lindy became too difficult to manage (wanting to copulate with humans was only one of a host of psychological afflictions from her imposed species identity crisis), her human family, who loved her still, begrudgingly gave her away because they could see that what they were doing to Lindy was not only cruel, but also demented. Lindy had a very hard time adjusting to her new life with chimps (which she had NEVER seen before, and did not even realize that SHE was one), and eventually died from complications from pneumonia. (Stress related immuno suppression? Maybe. Just a thought.)


2. Bilbo

Bilbo is male chimpanzee. He was raised by humans until he was about seven. Like Lindy, he is attracted to humans, albeit females ones. When he was rescued, he was integrated into a group of chimps that had two sexually mature females, but Bilbo didn't want to have sex with them. Because Bilbo never had sex, he was extremely frustrated, and especially aggressive in the mornings. You know how I figured out what calmed him down? One day I was wearing a low-cut shirt and leaned over in front of him. Quicker than a rubber band snapping, he was sitting in front of me, fixated on my cleavage and breathing so heavily that I was incalculably grateful that there was a fence between us. Bilbo, incidentally, was also raised in a family home, no abuse, no mistreatment. He was given away simply because he was getting too rebellious and having tantrums when he didn't get his way. Only problem is, a full-grown male chimp has the strength of about seven men. So, imagine a kid having a temper tantrum with the strength of seven men.... Terrifying thing indeed.


3.  Jenni 

Also raised in a caring home and also given up because her rebellious side was becoming unmanageable. It took WEEKS to incorporate her into a group of chimps. She didn't look at them, didn't communicate with them, didn't play with them. It was as if she was saying, "I don't know WHAT these hairy things are that you put me with, but I am not into it." And she charge through an electrified fence on numerous occasions to be with people again.


4. Nona

Bonnet macaque. Rescued from performing in India by a man who treats her like his daughter. Problem is, now that he wants to introduce her to other monkeys, she won't have it. Nona's human dad loves her, but probably TOO much. Any time anyone comes near her "dad," the extremely jealous Nona attacks them. And when "dad" tries to introduce her to other monkeys (because he would like to be able to be around his wife again without worrying about her being maimed), she attacks every single one of them because she is "daddy's girl." Except she's not. And one day "dad" will finally unburden his hands, and how will Nona feel? Will she understand that? But on the other hand, can this man live at the whim of every single one of Nona's emotional outbursts?


And on and on and on. And these are the stories where the primates are treated well and with love.  


drill, baboon, monkey, primate, africa, conservation, "monica szczupider"Rocky, Cameroon (2007)Rocky is a drill - a kind of monkey closely related to the better known mandrill (he of the blue face and red butt). Drills are considered one of Africa's most endangered mammals, with as few as 3,000 remaining in the wild. Rocky's mom was killed for meat, and Rocky was sold into the pet trade. He was found in a man's yard with a rope tied around his waist.


So in closing:


Yes, perhaps there is a chance that a monkey or ape can be raised by humans and still turn out psychologically sound. Just like you could say that there's a chance that if you take a kid from a loving family and home and decide to raise him in the prison system, that he could turn out psychologically sound, too. But that is an awfully big chance to take, and the stake is the well-being of a living creature.  


Excuse the 3 a.m. typos, but it just had to all come out.


"white faced", "white fronted", capuchin, "central america", nicaragua, monkey, "monica szczupider"Valerio, Nicaragua (2013)Like many other white-faced capuchins kept on chains in Nicaragua, Valerio's mother was most likely killed. Many people want monkeys as pets until they realize how much difficulty this actually presents. Consequently, unless rescued and properly integrated in a social group with other monkeys, they can spend years in solitude on a chain, which can wreck a monkey's psychology, rendering them full of neuroses like rocking and self-mutilating. Fortunately, Valerio was taken to a proper place to undergo rehabilitation.


Maggie - the big sista(non-registered)
I love you. I love you for who you are. You have one of the most biggest and compassionate hearts I know. I know that I've said this a million times before, and I'll say it a million more, but, I AM SO PROUD OF YOU.
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