WASHINGTON – When Mark McDaniels looks at Mango the squirrel monkey and Kiwi the capuchin, he doesn’t see exotic pets. He sees little hairy children.
Mango and Kiwi go everywhere McDaniels and his wife, Lori, go. On weekdays, they’re off to the veterinary office where Lori works, running free until they retreat to their carriers for nap time.
In the evenings, they relax with the couple on the couch and watch TV or enjoy family pizza night. When they’re feeling frisky, they play hide and seek, catch a ride on the family dogs or hang from the tire swing inside their large outdoor enclosure.
“I cannot imagine my life without them,” said McDaniels, 45, a Mississippi pest control technician. “Till the day I die, I will always own monkeys. They really enrich your life.”
But not everyone’s monkey tale has been as happy as McDaniels’, prompting the Senate this summer to unanimously pass a bill that would make it more difficult for people to buy pet primates.
At least 100 Americans have been seriously bitten, scratched and injured by captive monkeys and apes in the past decade, according to the Captive Wild Animal Protection Coalition.
The Senate passed the Captive Primate Safety Act in July after a horrific attack by two male chimpanzees that escaped from a cage at a California animal sanctuary and nearly killed a man before they were shot to death.
The proposed law, which is now before the House, would ban the interstate transport of primate pets. Lawmakers believe that would help stop the growing Internet sale of monkeys and apes. An estimated 15,000 primates are being kept as private pets in the United States. Only 15 states prohibit them.
Arizona has a partial ban on nonhuman primates. Larger primates – baboons, chimpanzees, orangutans – as pets are prohibited.
“Unfortunately, too many people see these primates as cute house pets without considering the hazards they pose,” said Sen. Jim Jeffords, I-Vt., who sponsored the bill with Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla.
Humans aren’t the only ones who suffer, animal rights groups say. Some owners attempt to tame the animals by removing their pets’ nails and teeth. Others keep them in small cages that prevent them from exercising.
Richard Farinato, director of the U.S. Humane Society’s Black Beauty Ranch animal sanctuary in Texas, has seen first-hand the problems of pet primates whose owners get rid of them after they bite. Many are passed from owner to owner or end up at inhumane roadside zoos.
“Our sanctuary is full, and so is every other sanctuary I know of,” said Farinato, who oversees care for 10 capuchin monkeys and macaques that used to be pets. “Accredited zoos won’t take them because they’re not socialized to get along with other primates of their species.”
Primates that have been raised by humans don’t understand the complex social network that monkeys and apes have created in the wild – or even in zoo groups, Farinato said.
“It’s very difficult to take in an animal that doesn’t know he’s a baboon or a macaque,” Farinato said. “He may know how to use the toilet or turn on the stove, but he doesn’t know the social cues of his species. Humans set him up to be a little misfit. The other monkeys will often persecute him.”
McDaniels said nothing makes him madder than irresponsible pet owners who don’t treat their primates with love and respect. But he said it’s unfair for Congress to penalize good owners.
“They shouldn’t lump us all together – it’s not right,” he said.
McDaniels has founded a group called Uniting a Proactive Primate and Exotic Animal League, which has hired a lobbyist to try to stop the House from banning interstate sales of primate pets.
Thinking of getting a pet monkey?
Even happy monkey owners say you should think twice before taking on what is sure to be a huge commitment of time and money.
“When people see me with my monkeys, they’ll come up and say, ‘Oh, I always wanted a monkey,’ ” said Mark McDaniels, who owns a capuchin and a squirrel monkey. “When I tell them what it takes to care for one, most of them don’t want a monkey anymore.”
Here are some things to consider, based on interviews with primate owners and experts:
> Monkeys and apes are social creatures that need a lot more of your attention than a dog or cat. They are not good pets for people who are gone to work all day.
> Primates need a great deal of space and should not be cooped up in a small cage. Ideally, they should have large indoor and outdoor enclosures equipped with tree limbs, ropes, and swings.
> Monkeys are wild animals with sharp teeth. They can be unpredictable. Docile infants can become aggressive when they grow up.
> Make sure there are veterinarians in your area who are willing and able to treat primates. Many do not.
> Do you have someone who can stay with your primate if you leave town?
> Some states and local governments ban primates as pets, and others are considering bans. You could end up with an outlawed pet.
> Depending on the species, primates can live 20 to 40 years or more. Are you willing to care for them that long? If they outlive you, who will care for them?
> Primates are expensive pets to buy and care for. The purchase price can range from $3,500 for a squirrel monkey to $50,000 for a chimp.
> Some monkeys can be trained to use a toilet. Many cannot. Are you willing to change a monkey’s diapers or clean up his enclosure?
> For more on proposed legislation and incidents involving monkeys, tucsoncitizen.com
The Associated Press
At least 100 people have been injured by captive primates over the past decade, according to the Captive Wild Animal Protection Coalition.
The coalition, which opposes keeping primates as pets, believes many more injuries have occurred but were never reported because people didn’t want their pets confiscated by animal control officials.
Among the reported incidents:
March 2006: A pet monkey escaped from its cage and bit a deep gash into the wrist of a woman who had come to visit the animal’s owner in Bell County, Texas.
November 2005: A pet monkey escaped and bit two children attending a birthday party at a neighbor’s home in Arizona.
July 2005: Two pet monkeys escaped from a backyard cage in Caldwell, Ohio. One of them bit a 20-year-old man before running away.
May 2005: A 13-year-old girl was bitten by a monkey being led on a leash at a shopping mall in Huntington, W.Va.
March 2005: Two male chimpanzees escaped from their enclosure at a California animal sanctuary and nearly killed a man who had come to visit. The two chimps that mauled the man had belonged to a Hollywood animal trainer. They were taken to the shelter after growing too strong and aggressive to handle.
Sources: Captive Wild Animal Protection Coalition; Humane Society of the United States; news reports.
ON THE WEB
• www.uappeal.org, Uniting a Proactive Primate and Exotic Animal League
• www.hsus.org, the Humane Society of the United States
• http://epw.senate.gov, Senate Environment and Public Works Committee
• http://resourcescommittee.house.gov, House Resources Committee