Have you ever seen “#PrimatesAreNotPets” floating around Twitter and other social media platforms? There’s a good reason this hashtag is becoming more prominent on the internet; primatologists, animal welfare activists, and conservationists are pushing to bring attention to the illegal pet trade and the devastation that it wrecks on the animals and their natural habitats. Primates aren’t the only exotic animals affected by the illegal pet trade, but they provide an excellent example of what removing a species from an ecosystem can do both at home and in the wild. Putting a primate in your home most likely will result in a grumpy, aggressive, lonely pet, and their absence in the wild can actually topple entire ecosystems.
To start, primates make terrible pets because they have complex social and emotional needs that can never be met in a domestic setting. Like humans, other primates are incredibly intelligent, requiring mental stimulation, social interaction with their species, and a large amount of physical activity. In the wild, these needs are met through active foraging for food, interacting with members of their social groups, exploring their natural environment, occasionally running from predators, or in the case of chimpanzees, hunting prey. In zoo and sanctuary settings, almost all of these needs are met through careful and extensive planning by an entire care team. There is enough room for several primate individuals to live comfortably in their habitat so their social needs can be met; you might also notice when visiting the zoo that primate sections contain multiple rooms per species (some might only be visible behind the scenes), and various climbing structures that are nearly impossible to support in a domestic home environment.
In domestic settings, these needs are almost impossible to meet in order for a primate to live a satisfactory life, and as a result, they end up with problems such as obesity and behavioral problems due to the lack of mental stimulation leading to aggression, anxiety, and depression resulting in a very lonely primate.
On the other end of the spectrum, removing primates from their natural habitat can wreak havoc on the ecosystem. Primates play key roles in their natural environment; they are seed dispersers, pollinators, and food sources for carnivores. They also control insect populations. Many primates are already on the endangered species list due to human activity, but removing even more of them from their homes has a cascading effect. Without seed dispersal and pollination, the local flora can die off. When there isn’t enough food for the herbivores, they move to other locations, or suffer from depleted populations, and then carnivores run out of their food source, leaving the entire area desolate.
On top of the ecological impacts, removing primates from their natural habitats also disrupts the social systems within home primate groups. Removing infants results in an entire missing generation which would eventually impact the ecosystem with lower populations not contributing enough to the environment. Removing adults can result in increased predation when the young no longer have protection. It can also result in infighting as a new hierarchy would need to be established depending on who is removed.
Lastly, when a primate is removed from the wild, they are very often subjected to cruel and inhumane treatment during the process of capture and transport. Poachers will often capture more than necessary since not all are likely to survive the journey to their captive home.
As technology advances, and humans have been communicating on a global scale through social media, the exotic animal trade has taken advantage. The dark web is no longer the only place to obtain illegal pets; you can just look for them on social media. Various accounts will highlight interactions with exotic animals, especially babies, that entice viewers to obtain their own, but this is where the social media advocacy campaign comes in. Primatologists, animal welfare activists, and conservationists have started adding the #PrimatesAreNotPets hashtags to these videos, images, and posts of primates while simultaneously reporting the account for illegal activity to get them shut down and out of the public eye, and you can help too!
The best way you can help prevent not only primates from becoming victims of the illegal pet trade, but all animals is:
- Don’t buy exotic animals, obviously.
- Education and awareness – the more you learn, and the more you tell everyone you know, the more responsible people can be when they are presented in a situation that can have an impact. (Here’s the IUCN’s guide for the best practices of posting media about non-human primates, and this can be extended to many exotic animals.)
- Support conservation – this can be done by donations, spreading awareness, or even volunteering.
- Advocate – stronger rules and regulations can make it more difficult for the illegal pet trade to operate and reduce demand.
- Support ethical tourism – research facilities that care for animals before visiting. Facilities that offer experiences like riding elephants or taking pictures with monkeys on your shoulder are considered unethical and do more harm to animal conservation and care than good.
- Report – when you come across accounts or posts that promote the illegal pet trade or unethical practices with animals, report the content. Many social media platforms have rules against that type of content, and their accounts can be taken down for violating the rules.
- And lastly, always remember that #PrimatesAreNotPets.
Edited by Brianna Best and Gabriel Nah