ABC Primetime aired a show titled “The Outsiders” which has portrayed primate ownership in the worst possible light and FAILED to report the entire story. It is the most biased article I have seen and demonstrates an incredible lack of journalism. I was actually interviewed by Denise Balona, The Orlando Sentinel reporter who wrote the original story on Lori Johnson and her pet Capuchin, Jessica-Marie. We spoke for about a half hour. She also spoke for more than an hour with my mother-in-law, who owns three capuchins.
Nothing we told her was printed in her article. None of the pictures of our large enclosures, or of us with our ADULT primates, mouths full of those beautiful canines. When I later emailed her asking her why nothing we had said was printed her reply was “I had included some of what you said but removed it due to space constraints.” How very convenient. The media loves to portray all primate owners as irresponsible lunatics who keep them as “surrogate children.” This is false. My primates are not my surrogates, they are monkeys and are cared for as such. I do love them as part of my family the same way that other American families love their dog or cat. I have met with many other owners who also care wonderfully for their primate companions.
This special was the equivalent of airing a show on owners who use their dogs in dog fighting and then state or imply that all owners fight their dogs. Amputating fingers? That is cruel and no owner would condone that. That was one isolated case of a primate with amputated fingers. It probably occurred from him fighting with another monkey, not an actual amputation.
Regarding Angelle Sampey and her monkey, Andy – If she would have done the proper research before acquiring him she would have known that he needed companionship of his own kind or CONSTANT company from her, which her job would not allow her to provide him because of constant travel requirements. If she did not have time for a child because of her job, what made her believe she would have had time for such a high maintenance animal? She mentioned over and over that she KNEW he was lonely. If she knew he was lonely why didn’t she get him a mate, or spend more time with him? At the end of the show she mentioned that she wanted to turn his room into a room for a little girl she was adopting from China. She didn’t have time for her monkey, and she wants to bring a child in to her life?
To those people judging monkey owners, don’t forget that dogs too came from the wild at one point. In fact there are still wild dogs out there. They are called wolves. Judging by the 4.7 million+ dog bites ANUALLY, in the US alone, dogs aren’t very domesticated either. In the end it is how the animals were cared for.
I have seen many very well cared for primates, and many well cared for domestics. Arguments can be made in favor or against any and all animal breeds. Yes, some people choose to live their lives with an alternative pet. That does not make us any more crazy, evil, or selfish than the neighbor with a cat or fish. Monkeys are animals just the same as dogs are. Both have different needs. What needs to be looked at is not the type of animal one owns, but the type of care that animal receives. There are bad owners for ALL animal species. I have seen the sweetest pit bulls who would not hurt a fly, yet the media makes them out to be vicious animals. They are not.
Sadly, it is irresponsible owners who always make the news. These individuals discredit all the good owners out there. Should there be permits required to own a primate? Yes. And many states do require permits. Should they be banned, NO. Bans only punish responsible owners and monkeys who are bonded with their caretakers and need to be given up because they are no longer allowed where they live. Those acquiring them illegally will continue to do so.
For those that believe that the wild is a much better place should go visit that wild. The greatest threat to monkeys is not the pet trade but Habitat Encroachment, followed by poaching. The monkeys have nowhere to go because human overpopulation is leading to the taking of their land. The people in their native habitats who stole that land now kill them because they continue to eat from their crops and are considered a nuisance. People in poverty stricken areas kill them for food.
Add to that equation other predators, drought leading to less food and greater competition among other animals. There are also the diseases they can succumb to in the wild. These animals are being pushed out of their native land with nowhere to go. The wild doesn’t seem so much greater than captivity in a caring environment. Unless one finds extinction a better option?
Many will say that they belong in zoos and sanctuaries. Remember animal rights groups don’t want them in cages at all, including zoos and sanctuaries. Sanctuary and zoo employees work for minimum wage, or free. I am sure for many it is a job just to get by. I am sure few people would want to work cleaning cages day in day out for a living. My point: Many zoo employees don’t really care much for the animals, they just need a paycheck. I have spoken to employees at zoos who tell me that they only remain there for the animals, because most other employees don’t care. Private owners took up this responsibility willingly, and get rewarded by the close relationship they develop with their animals. Their hard work is rewarded with companionship, which makes the daily chores worth it. Something zoo employees lack as the handling of animals is prohibited in most cases.
Below is a comment made on the ABC site – I could not have said it better myself. “Why does our society refuse to embrace anyone who is different? At one time the black community was ostracized by society because of their skin color. Members of the gay community have been ostracized because of their sexual practices. Other groups of Americans have been discriminated against because of other practices or cultural differences. Why can’t Americans “live and let live?”
Personally, I don’t like snakes. In fact, I am frightened of them and they disgust me. But do I ridicule and condemn responsible owners of snakes for their passion and dedication to the species that interests them and they chose to share their lives with? NO! When pet owners fondly refer to their dog, cat, primate, or other pet as their “son” or “daughter,” as many pet owners of various species do, it is simply a term of endearment which describes the loving and nurturing relationship they have with their pet. I have heard many dog owners refer to their dogs as their “babies,” their “fur-babies,” their “kids,” or their “son/daughter.”
The practice of referring to beloved pets with otherwise human terminology is not isolated to primate pet owners, but is a common practice among thousands of animal-loving American pet owners. In no way are these individuals deluded or insane, just very fond of the animals in their care and they chose to refer to them with terms of endearment that refer to the intimacy of the parent/child relationship. Some people don’t refer to their pets with this type of terminology, but shouldn’t condemn those who do.
Few Americans have the dedication and commitment required to care for a primate pet due to the animal’s complex and specialized needs. But that doesn’t mean that the few people who choose to make that type of commitment to an animal should be ostracized, punished or condemned for doing so. Let’s respect the dedication of these people to their unusual pets and leave them alone!”
We often get emails about persons wanting to know what the next steps are in research, or how to gain experience. The options are visiting a private owner if you are lucky enough, volunteering/working at a zoo/sanctuary, and reading books.
In my opinion, the best way to gain experience in raising a pet primate would be by visiting a private owner to see how their primate is raised, the interactions and such. But, unfortunately, most owners will not allow strangers to come to their home. The laws regarding exotics are different from that of domestics. Even if a waiver of liability is signed, because a bite would be a potential public health issue, the monkey may still be euthanized (to remove doubt of rabies transmission). The owner would be free of liability but the monkey’s life could still be taken.
How do zoos get around this you ask? Zoos, sanctuaries and the such require employees to take a current rabies shot, and keep it up to date so if a bite/scratch occurred they are covered. These places take PREVENTIVE measures. To a private owner, it is not worth the hassle of getting a waiver signed, current rabies shot from visitor, and dealing with the headache if something happened in addition to the risk to their beloved pet. All so that a complete stranger can get experience.
The second best place to get experience would be to volunteer at a zoo or sanctuary. The problem with these places however is that most are hands off, especially those who have no experience. Also, monkeys in zoos are raised differently than pets are in that for the most part they have minimal contact with people, and are therefore not tame. Your duties will pretty much involve cleaning cages, preparing food, and possibly learning capture and restraint techniques. You will also pick up on the monkey’s vocalizations and social structures. Even though you won’t get hands-on experience handling the monkey, you will learn other important aspects of proper primate care.
In addition, these institutions are under so much pressure from Animal Rights organizations so they do not support private ownership. Most sanctuaries will say that monkeys make horrible pets, because they don’t want them to be pets.
Reading books on primate care and behavior is also a GREAT way to learn about their proper care. Although books won’t give you hands on experience they can build your knowledge and understanding of primate social structures, behaviors, temperaments, rearing of young, and other pertinent information. I think it is important to read books on how primates live in the wild, and how troop members resolve conflicts, bond, and the such so that you understand why your primate is doing what it is doing, and also to mimic those behaviors in order to raise a happy, well adjusted primate.
I will be listing on this page books I have read on primates so that others which are interested can read. I have read the following books:
“Almost Human: The Baboon Wild and Tame” by Julie McDonald (1965)
A very interesting story on how a woman sculptor, fascinated by baboons in Egyptian art, raised a female baboon named Abu. It was amazing the similarities of baboons to humans in a more primitive way, and the loving bond between Abu and her owner. It taught me much about baboon social structures, and the such.
“Monkeys As Pets” by Leonore Brandt (Curator of the Cincinnati zoo) (1953)
A refreshing and honest look at primate ownership in the 1950’S, a time before the animal rights movement, and taboos of keeping primates as pets. Ms. Brandt gave a synopsis of the personalities of the different primate species kept as pets, both in her care, as well as those in other zoos, and private homes that she came in contact with.
“Parenting For Primates” by Dr. Harriet J. Smith (2006)
This is a GREAT book on primate parenting, both human and non-human. The author is a primatologist turned human psychologist that bred cotton-top tamarins for 30 years. This is one of the most interesting primate books I have read. She compares rearing of young between primates and humans. Points out by comparing primates to tribal people in Africa, that even us humans in years past raised our young similar to the way monkeys do, and that it is parenting in industrialized societies which has evolved most away from parenting the way nature intended us to. This is a good book for those interested in primates as well as new/future mothers of human primates. The only thing I did not like about the book was the author’s disclaimer about primates not making good pets.
“Conversations with Koko” by Nature/PBS- Movie documentary (1999)
This was Awesome! NATURE’s “A Conversation With Koko” explores inter-species communication by focusing on the groundbreaking work of The Gorilla Foundation, where one animal resident has been speaking in sign language for more than 25 years. Koko’s owner was a doctorate student who took on the challenge of teaching a gorilla sign language for her dissertation. A 4 year project turned into a 30+ year endeavor. It will captivate your heart and amaze you as you watch the communication and witness first hand the bond between Koko, her human family, and gorilla mates. Danny & I watched the video TWICE at his request…on the same night.
“Monkey Matters’ Guide to Care & Behavior” by Monkey Matters magazine (most recent edition 2005)
This is a great book for a first time monkey owners, and veteran owners alike. This is the only book I have found which goes into detail on caring for PET monkeys. It has chapters on proper husbandry, bonding, infant care, proper diet, enrichment, proper veterinary restraint, and more. Also has chapters on each of the common species kept as pets (over 30 species) and lists information on their natural habitats and owner’s experiences with that particular species. Many great pictures as well. I highly recommend this book.