Born Free Foundation - Keep Wildlife in the Wild

Primates as Pets

Many people may be shocked to discover that it is still possible to walk into a high-street pet shop in England and buy a primate. Experts agree that primates are ill-suited for private ownership, where their behavioural, psychological, and environmental needs cannot be met, and consequently we would like to see an end to the keeping of primates as pets.

In 2014 the Born Free Foundation commissioned an investigation into the sale of primates in licensed pet shops in England to contribute to a better understanding of the scale and scope of problems relating to the sale and keeping of primates as pets.

22nd August 2014 marked the release of Pet Shop Primates, a report based on the findings of this investigation. The investigation focused solely on licensed pet shops with high street premises. Private sellers, online advertisers and animal dealers were not included. It is highly likely that the majority of the trade in primates occurs away from the high street.

With information gathered under Freedom of Information from local authorities, Born Free was able to identify 21 pet shops in England licensed to sell primates. The Ornamental Aquatic Trade Association (OATA) has estimated that there may be as many as 43 pet shops across the UK licensed to sell primates.

The key findings of the report reveal that:

  • Pet shops are willing to sell single primates, without at least verifying with the potential purchaser that the primate would be housed with others of the same species.
  • Staff at one shop did not appear to know that a marmoset was a monkey.
  • Pet shops were inconsistent in their advice regarding where and how to keep primates – for example, recommending that primates could be housed in a spare room or garage.
  • There were concerns for the welfare of some primates kept in pet shops, with monkeys in one shop on sale in cages traditionally used to keep parrots.

In 2010 the Code of Practice for the Welfare of Privately Kept Non-Human Primates was published by Defra. The Code of Practice applies to primates kept in private ownership and acts as a guide to meeting the requirements of the Animal Welfare Act. The Code is scheduled for review in 2015 but we believe that even if it is expanded to provide more detail, is will never be able to guarantee the welfare of primates as pets, as a consequence of the incompatibility between the animals’ biology and needs and the domestic environment. Nonetheless, our investigation indicates several areas where purchasing primates from pet shops may not meet the guidelines in the Code of Practice.

Furthermore, there is an urgent need to review and update the Pet Animals Act which deals with the sale of animals and the licensing of pet shops and has remained largely unchanged since 1951. We are calling on the UK government to make this a priority.

Adam Roberts, the then Acting CEO of the Born Free Foundation said: “There is an overwhelming and increasing body of evidence and opinion that primates do not fare well as pets. The UK Government needs to move swiftly to close the loopholes that allow the sale of primates to the general public. An increasing number of other countries have taken action on: for example, the keeping of primates as pets is banned in some EU countries such as the Netherlands and Hungary, while the United States senate has started moving national legislation to end the pet primate trade”.

Ultimately we are convinced that no regulatory system can safeguard the welfare of primates when kept privately, and that a ban on the trade and private keeping of all species of primates should be introduced across the UK.

Born Free Foundation
Broadlands Business Campus, Langhurstwood Road
, Horsham, RH12 4QP, UK - Charity Reg. No. 1070906

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