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UK Opens Debate On Pet Primates – But Is That Enough?

monkey 2Creativecommons.org/Kevin Jones

It’s a shocking fact that in a progressive country like the UK, it is quite legal to stroll down to the local pet shop and purchase a pet chimp or monkey.

Thankfully, the UK government is seeking to take action on this inhumane practice.

The country’s MPs have opened the debate of non-human primate ownership, warning that urgent action is required to establish the numbers of primates kept in captivity by private individuals across the UK - and to improve their welfare.

It’s a step in the right direction, but it has left animal welfare charities calling for more direct action.

Launching the new Primates as Pets report, the chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Committee, Anne McIntosh explained: "We take the welfare of primates in captivity very seriously, so we were surprised to find that so little is known about the types and numbers of primates being kept or traded by private individuals in the UK and about the manner in which they are being kept. It is paramount the Government acts promptly to address this ‘evidence deficit’  

“We do not rule out a ban, but conclude that such a step must be based on solid evidence and cannot be imposed before every opportunity to improve the operation of our existing framework has been exhausted.”

The committee is calling upon DEFRA to commission independent research to establish the extent of the problems.

“In the meantime, we recommend a number of changes to the current regulatory framework governing primates kept by private individuals to help protect their welfare over the short to medium term,” added McIntosh.

“In particular, the government must ensure that standards for primates kept in private match those required in zoos. The quality of care that these animals enjoy should be the same whether they happen to be kept in a circus, a pet shop, a private home or a zoo.

“If these suggested changes prove insufficient and the evidence for doing so proves compelling, then a ban on the trade and keeping of privately kept primates should remain an option for the future.”

monkey 1Creativecommons.org/Afrika Force

In response, the UK’s Born Free Foundation is calling for swift action to implement a nationwide prohibition on the private ownership of primates.

“While the report echoes the concerns of animal welfare groups on some aspects of the keeping of primates as pets, in other areas it is off the mark,” said Adam Roberts, acting CEO of the Born Free Foundation.

“We are concerned that one of the main recommendations in the report is that there be more research on the scale of the trade in primates as pets before a ban is considered. The question is not one of numbers - it’s one of animal welfare. Experts agree that primates are ill-suited for private ownership, where their behavioural, psychological and environmental needs cannot be met. Whether there are 1,000 or 10,000 primates in homes in Britain, it is too many.”

Born Free is already working to pull together the best and most reliable evidence on the matter.

“We are calling on the government to act on this issue,” added Roberts. “It is staggering that, in this day and age, it is legal to keep such complex and intelligent animals as pets in the UK, and that their sale is in some cases unregulated. No amount of Codes of Practice or research will address this. The compassionate, sensible, and precautionary approach would be for government to move swiftly to introduce a ban on the keeping of these animals in private hands.”

Likewise, animal protection organisation Animal Defenders International (ADI) has branded the report as a “missed opportunity” to tackle this serious welfare issue head-on.

Jan Creamer, president of Animal Defenders International said: “Primates are intelligent, emotional, long-lived, wild animals, whose highly complex needs make them totally unsuitable as pets. It is imperative that the government takes urgent action to prevent their suffering by introducing a ban at the earliest opportunity - a ban is the most cost-effective solution.

“Despite several legislative measures already being in place, primates are still not being adequately protected. It is time for the government to take decisive action, putting a simple, effective prohibition in place which will be easier to enforce and guarantee animal welfare.”

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