Primates as Pets, in Entertainment and in Research

Humane Society International


Living primates, whether captive-bred or wild-caught, have been exploited by humans for exotic pet trade, for our entertainment and in biomedical research. In each case, people have put their own needs and desires first, without enough thought for what is best for the animals.


The pet trade


The pet trade has long been a problem for primates. People are fascinated by their human-like characteristics, but have been unwilling to acknowledge the fact that primates make poor pets. A recent study of the trade in chimpanzees as pets showed that as many as 10 chimps die for every one who is successfully delivered to his overseas destination. Those who survive their capture and transportation go on to suffer a sad and lonely life as a pet. Primates are social creatures and, when taken away from their family group and natural habitat, they suffer psychological consequences. Monkeys and apes may also become aggressive as they age and more difficult to handle. The sad result is the neglect, abandonment or sale into bad circumstances of a great number of these animals, often leading to their untimely deaths.


Primates in entertainment


Primates held captive in roadside zoos or made to participate in circuses, films, shows and commercials are coerced into repetitive, unnatural behaviors, too often through negative rather than positive reinforcement. The performing animals we see are usually young, taken too soon from their mothers. At worst, they are abused; at best, they are improperly socialized. Like primates purchased as pets, many are cast aside when they mature and become unmanageable. The appearance of apparently cuddly chimps and other primates on television and in movies also helps perpetuate their inclusion in the pet trade.


Use in research labs


Approximately 55,000 primates are used in research labs every year in the U.S. alone. Among the most common are the crab-eating and rhesus macaque monkeys. Chimpanzees were once popular among laboratory researchers for the study of HIV until scientists found that the chimpanzee is a poor model because the virus affects chimps very differently from how it affects humans. Many remain warehoused in laboratories, while some are subjects of other experiments. Tragically, these long-lived animals may spend up to six decades locked up. Read about why Chimps Deserve Better.