The Year of the Monkey just started, but already, this was no easy start for primates. According to an article in The Guardian, online photos and videos portraying Pygmy marmosets, also known as “thumbnail monkeys” because of their small size, are fueling the popularity of the animals as trend pets. Due to demand, the illegal trade of these animals is escalating.

Pygmy marmosets are the world’s smallest monkeys. They are native to South American rainforests, where they live in small groups of around a dozen individuals, and they do not fare well in captivity. Despite this, China’s wealthy elite, are purchasing these animals for about $4,500 each to keep as pets in their homes, According to The American Journal of Primatology, Pygmies were the second-most trafficked primate species (squirrel monkeys were the first), accounting for 13 percent of the primates the research team found for sale as pets and bushmeat at Peruvian markets. According to the International Union for Conservation and Nature, their population numbers are in decline due to the illegal pet trade.

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While these monkeys are completely adorable, the journey that they, and other animals, endure in the wildlife trade is anything but cute. Most are stolen as infants and confined in cages. On the trip to their destination, they’re subject to starvation, harsh weather conditions, injuries, and illness. Most animals sold as exotic pets never even make it to their intended buyers. In fact, biologists found that around 70 percent of traded exotic animals die at the wholesaler!

The trade in Marmosets has become a particular problem in China, but the exotic pet industry runs rampant worldwide. Slow lorises are marketed as children’s pets (after their venomous teeth are removed), birds have been reported to have their beaks taped shut for transport, and sealed plastic pillows containing live turtles, fish, and amphibians are reportedly sold as trinkets, and perhaps most shockingly, there are currently more tigers living in U.S. backyards than in the wild. Clearly there is something wrong here.

While these animals are cute, it’s absolutely critical that we don’t encourage the illegal wildlife trade by viewing these living beings as pets. They all exist to play a role in their individual ecosystems and removing them for the sake of our entertainment or amusement is not only cruel, it’s irresponsible. No matter how hard we try, we can never recreate the environment or life that wild animals would enjoy in their natural setting.  The next time you see a video of an exotic animal being kept as a pet, think twice before liking or sharing it. Instead, share photos and videos of these incredible wild animals running free in the wild, where they belong.

Lead image source: Bobby Yip/Reuters