At this very moment the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs committee is undergoing an inquiry into the keeping of primates as pets.Written evidence has already been submitted and on the 5th February in London oral evidence was given on this subject. Organisations involved included Wild Futures, Monkey World Ape Rescue Centre, the RSPCA and the British Veterinary Zoological Society (BVZS).
The video of the committee meeting can be viewed here
Also, if you would like to read the written evidence click here
There were some very powerful and moving answers to the questions being asked, which ranged from do you think a ban can be enforced and could any changes to the code of practice be made to ensure the welfare of a pet primate is met. Special mention must go to Rachel Hevesi (Director of Wild Futures) and Dr Alison Cronin (Director of Monkey World Ape Rescue Centre), who between them have around 50 years of experience working with primates in captivity.
The main arguments for a ban on primates as pets seemed to be that they are not domesticated animals and no level of legislation and welfare can ensure that their welfare needs are met. They are complex, highly intelligent creatures that live in large social structures and have a varied diet. For instance, Dr Lisa Riley (independent animal welfare consultant) stated that Marmosets are specific gum eaters and that diet can not be easily replicated in a domestic environment. The issue around public health did not seem to raise that many concerns, but it was mentioned that there are threats of diseases being passed between non-humans primates and humans.
The main arguments not for a ban were not on the grounds of someone saying people should be allowed to keep a pet primate if they so wish, but more that enforcing it would be near impossible. Also, Andrew Greenwood (BVZS) stated that the estimated numbers of primates being kept as pets were way over inflated and that it is more like 1,000 not 10,000. Lord De Mauley (Parliamentary Under-Secretary) said that primates as a pet account roughly for 1 in every 8,000 people where dogs is 1 in every 8. He concluded by saying that is is those areas where we need to be concentrating on and the problems that occur from dog ownership.
Dr Cronin was somewhere in the middle of the two arguments, but said that she wants to see the same level of legislation for anyone keeping a primate whether that is a Zoo or private individual. The welfare of the primate must come first and the zoo license legislation for keeping a primate is very high and it seemed strange why a zoo needs to adhere to that level but a private individual doesn't.
In my opinion, primates are not domesticated and not ours to do with as we please. Their numbers are decreasing in the wild and this is driven by their demand as a pet. How can we possibly go to other countries and condemn abuse against primates when we allow such ridiculous private domestic ownership in the UK. I believe if a ban was introduced many owners would no longer want to be involved as they would not want to be breaking the law. Also, they would get a wave of education into why the ban has come in and that the keeping of primates as pets is wrong. After all, this is all to do with the overall welfare of the primate involved and there are no grounds for breeding primates in the UK for a pet. How could you possible argue that keeping a primate as a pet is anything but the owners own selfishness for wanting one. For example, primates usually spend anything from one year to seven years with their mother; most primates are sold when they are only months old because that is when they are 'cute'. They are just in it for the money.
The only acceptable option going forward is a complete ban on the trade in primates.
Wild Futures - Primates as Pets: Is there a case for regulation?
DEFRA - Code of Practice Welfare of privately kept non-human primates
DEFRA - Animal welfare legislation: protecting pets