Pet Primate Species and Ownership

Simian Society of America would like to clarify the many misconceptions regarding the different primate species, and which of these species are most commonly kept as pets in Virginia. With this factual information we are requesting that primates be removed from HB 310. According to the database of the SSA, the most common primates kept by members in captivity, range in weight from less than 1 lb to no greater than 50 lbs. The average weight of the captive primates kept by members actually calculates to <13 lbs. This is smaller than the average pet dog, and is a huge contrast to the chimp of up to 200 lbs that many legislators and the general public picture when they hear the word “monkey”. A Chimpanzee is not a monkey at all and is classified as a great ape (along with orangutans and gorillas). There is a significant difference between common primate pets and the Great Apes that require professional handlers. According to our records there are no Great Apes in private homes in the state of Virginia.

The smallest of these primates are the marmoset and tamarin group. They weigh less than 1 lb and are enjoyed as pets by many. The average weight of marmosets is not much more than a large common hamster. Their bite, volume of food intake, noise level, and speed could be compared to the hamster, yet the cage enclosures provided by most marmoset owners is commonly 100 times the size.

Next in size of the commonly kept primate pets is the squirrel monkey. This monkey is similar in size to the common squirrel and weigh just 1 ½ - 3 lbs.

Nationwide the capuchin monkey is the most common primate kept in captivity. This holds true for Virginia as well. Capuchin monkeys average 4½ -9 lbs, the same size as a rabbit or toy poodle. These are the monkeys you may remember from

your childhood as “organ grinder monkeys” and had served in this role since the 1800’s. In addition to suitable pets, these capuchins are well known for the role they play in the medical field as service animals for quadriplegics. Helping Hands is a non-profit organization developed in 1979 in Boston, Massachusetts that raises and trains capuchin monkeys to provide in-home assistance to people living with spinal cord injury or other mobility impairments. According to this organization their “service monkeys provide gifts of independence, companionship, dignity, and hope to the people they help”. . The nature of this service attests to the ability of capuchin monkeys to adapt and flourish in a safe home situation.

Toward the larger scale of common primate pets are the spider monkeys and gibbons. The gibbon is classified as a lesser ape, not because of size, but because it has no tail. These primates both average in size from 18 to 23 pounds (typical weight of a medium dog).

There are a number of macaque sub-types that vary in size and physical characteristics. Depending on the species, their weight can range from 8 – 35 lbs. Their size would compare to a small or medium size dog. The macaque species is closely entwined with humans throughout the history of Asia and Africa. Macaque monkeys are revered as children of Hunan the monkey god in cities throughout India. The most commonly kept pet macaque is the java or crabeating macaque, which is also the smallest macaque. For clarification, one species of macaque (Celebes) has a very short tail which can be hard to see. It has been incorrectly called an ape but scientifically it is a true monkey and never classified as an ape.

There are very few primate owners in the state of Virginia, and the monkey species’ that are kept as pets in the homes of Virginia citizens are typically small and responsibly kept. Many Virginia owners are members of SSA and are

educated in primate ownership. Most people with primates as pets are without incident if they have been educated. That we know of, there has only been 1 incident in the last 11 years. Compare this to dog bites which number 50,000 annually nationwide. SSA and other organizations provide seminars, conferences, literature, and publications to educate owners. Pet primates are disease-free and pose no significant health risk. According to the CDC, there has never been a disease transferred from a pet primate to a human. These beloved pet primates are comparable in size and strength to common household pets. Helping Hands Organization with a 33 year successful history states, “We have found that the joy and emotional bond between a monkey and a person is equally strong and fulfilling for both. Monkeys are nurtured, stimulated, educated, rewarded and loved, as is the person.”

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