As many as 15,000 primates are kept as pets throughout the United States and tens of thousands more around the world. Although, for many people, it’s hard to imagine why one would desire to confine a wild animal to a life of captivity let alone fathom how to care properly for one, it happens more often than you’d think. Individuals who acquire primates as pets may do so thinking that these animals are simply cute and intelligent – making them great companions – but in reality they’re much more complex.

The Downside of Keeping Primates as Pets

Compounding the horrors of the primate pet trade is how they are acquired. Most primates sold through the wildlife trade as exotic pets are taken from the wild as infants, their mothers killed during the capture. This experience is especially traumatic for a species that is dependent on its mother and generally lives in tight-knit family groups. From this, they are forced to live in small, unnatural enclosures and deprived of their ability to perform natural behaviors. Consequently, they can become aggressive and act out in manners dangerous to both themselves and their owners.

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Primates in captivity, like many species, also suffer from stereotypic behaviors. These behaviors are repetitive and serve no obvious purpose or function, but can be harmful to the animal. Primates are also prone to aggression in captivity as a result of their lack of enrichment and ability to display and follow through with a wide range of natural behaviors.

Efforts to obtain some semblance of control often end with owners administering medications or physically abusing their animals to establish dominance. As the animals grow, owners inevitably begin to lose control as the animals become stronger, more destructive and demand more attention.

Despite all the reasons to not obtain primates and other wild animals as pets, people continue to buy them and fuel the illegal wildlife trade in the process. What many don’t realize is that these animals are more than commodities, but individuals who suffer. This fact is incredibly evident in the example of one monkey who was recently saved from life as a pet in Chile.

1469189397_80d7a4d688_zvincentraal/Flickr

Nicolas the Monkey

Of all the stories we’ve heard of primates being held as exotic pets and abused, a recent developing story has garnered attention for the specific way in which caretakers abused their pet monkey.

Nicolas, a tufted capuchin monkey, was being held in captivity at a shop in Santiago, Chile. When he was young his owners had his fangs removed so that he wouldn’t pose a threat to them, a relatively common and incredibly painful practice.

Not long afterward, his owners began giving Nicolas cigarettes as a form of entertainment and ultimately began to supply him with alcohol.

“They liked to see his reactions when he drank. He became more aggressive, and that made them laugh,” veterinarian Nicole Rivera Helbig explained to Discovery.

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So much so that he, quite literally, became addicted to the substance. Nicolas began to display aggression in response to the alcohol he was consuming, but his owners found this amusing and not frightening, in large part because the animal no longer posed a threat to their safety.

After years of abuse, Nicolas was rescued by authorities and transported to the Primate Rehabilitation Center in Penaflor. Along with 150 other illegally trafficked animals, he continues to undergo treatment.

“Alcohol, cigarettes and drugs are the most common things (abusive owners) give to monkeys, because they see it as a game,” Rivera continued. Sadly, what these cruel individuals see as a game is at a horrible, crippling cost to the animals. Although Nicolas is on his way to recovery, there are many, many others like him who may never be rescued from this life or given the help they need.

How Can You Help?

While the situation with Nicolas is certainly surprising to most, it’s not entirely out of the ordinary, either. That is, taking advantage of primates or other wild animals and supplying them with something dangerous as a form of entertainment is not uncommon.

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The illegal wildlife trade continues to thrive and be as discreet as ever, but thanks to a number of organizations working within local communities and at border control stations, we’re seeing an increase in the number of smugglers captured and the number of wild animals that never enter circulation. Although not all of the animals rescued are candidates to be released back into the wild, those that are rescued are at the very least given a chance to live the remainder of their lives in a sanctuary.

If you’d like to learn how others are helping to shut down the illegal trade or how you can help, check out some of these other informative articles:

 Lead image source: Heather Paul/Flickr