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June 10, 2014

Ban on Keeping Primates as Pets Not Ruled Out as Parliament Report Calls for Urgent Action

HSI says primate pet ban is crucial

Humane Society International/UK

  • Barbary macaque. Martin Harvey/Alamy

LONDON—A report published by the UK Parliament’s Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee says a future ban on keeping primates as pets in UK homes may be considered if welfare improvements cannot be achieved through the current system.

The report says that the Government must act quickly to find out how many and what types of non-human primates are being kept privately as pets across Britain, and develop a plan of action for improving their welfare.

Humane Society International UK, one of a number of animal welfare groups that provided evidence to an EFRA Committee enquiry, says keeping primates as pets results in severe welfare issues for animals, and that existing evidence justifies a ban. The charity is encouraged, however, that the Committee supports the adoption of a ban in principle, and that MPs clearly recognise the many shortcomings of the current system.

Mark Jones, veterinarian and executive director of HSI UK, said:
“Keeping primates as pets unquestionably compromises their welfare, as well as threatens species conservation, and potentially human health and safety too. Primates are wild animals and do not belong in our homes, so it is disappointing that the EFRA Committee didn’t recommend an immediate ban. Nevertheless, the Committee clearly recognises that the current system is woefully inadequate and that primates are being traded and held captive in our homes in a largely unregulated fashion that leaves them vulnerable to unnecessary suffering and abuse.

“It is astonishing that no-one really knows how many primates are in private hands in Britain, and we welcome the Committee’s recommendation that the government take swift action to address this knowledge gap. Ultimately, though, we believe that ensuring the welfare of pet primates under any registration system is both unachievable and unenforceable. We are confident that as more evidence is forthcoming, it will become clear that a ban on the private keeping of and trade in primates is the only way to prevent the suffering of these highly intelligent, sensitive and socially complex animals.”


  • The species of primates most commonly kept as pets, such as marmosets, tamarins and squirrel monkeys, are not covered under the Dangerous Wild Animals Act. This means no system licenses, inspects or counts these animals in UK private ownership.
  • Primate pet-owning celebrities help fuel the trade. In March 2013 a capuchin monkey Justin Bieber keeps as a pet was confiscated by German customs officials. TOWIE's Joey Essex also has been criticised for repeatedly expressing interest in owning a pet monkey.
  • The latest estimate by the RSPCA and Wild Futures of the number of non-human primates in UK private ownership range from 3,000 to 9,000 animals. However, these estimates cannot take account of primate species not listed under the DWAA, therefore the true number could be far higher.
  • A voluntary Code of Practice for the Welfare of Privately Kept Non-Human Primates was introduced by DEFRA in 2010, however it is far too generic to provide adequate information on the various species’ needs, is not in and of itself legally binding, and ensuring compliance is virtually impossible.
  • HSI UK recently co-hosted a one-day symposium in London on this issue, alongside the Born Free Foundation and the Nocturnal Primate Research Group. Expert speakers outlined the animal welfare, conservation and human safety concerns relating to the keeping of pet primates, and some of the legal solutions that have been implemented in other countries, including Belgium and the Netherlands. The proceedings of the symposium will be made publicly available in the near future.


Media contact:
Wendy Higgins, Communications Director: +44 (0)7989 972 423, whiggins@hsi.org

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