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Keeping squirrel monkeys as pets

Squirrel monkeys' natural habitat is in the tropical rainforests of Central and South America and the coastal forest of Brazil. They eat different types of flowers, leaves, buds, nuts, insects, lizards and eggs.

Squirrel monkeys are one of the smaller species of primates. They're fairly common in the pet trade in the UK.

squirrel monkey on a perch

Do squirrel monkeys make good pets?

We don't consider squirrel monkeys suitable for keeping as pets. This is because:

  • Wild squirrel monkeys spend 99% of their lives in trees, in dense tropical rainforests and wetlands. It's impossible to recreate an environment close to their natural habitat if kept as a pet.
  • They're one of the cleverest monkeys, which means they need a lot of intellectual stimulation to prevent distress caused by boredom. 
  • In the wild they live in 'troops' of up to 500, but usually more like 50. 
  • They scent-mark their territory by spreading urine on their hands and feet, which marks the path where they walk.
  • They live for up to 20 years - a long-term commitment!

Are squirrel monkeys legal to buy in the UK?

Unfortunately, it's technically legal to keep squirrel monkeys as pets in England and Wales. This is why we're campaigning for the governments to impose a ban.

Taken from the wild to be kept as a pet: Charlie's story

Charlie is a squirrel monkey who was three years old when we found him. He was confined to a birdcage in a cold, dark office on an industrial estate in West London. 

His entire cage was filthy - covered in dried faeces and urine. It measured just 121cm high by 85cm wide and 54cm deep, with no outside enclosure nor access to natural sunlight. 

There was a broken heat lamp on the top of the cage that Charlie could reach - but it had clearly stopped working some time ago.

Being on an industrial estate, there was constant background noise. Monkeys have very delicate hearing, so this constant noise caused Charlie great distress.

The owner admitted to taking Charlie for walks in London's Hyde Park using a harness and extendable lead. For a primate who naturally lives high in the trees, this would have been incredibly stressful for him.

Charlie suffered terribly due to inadequate care and an inappropriate environment

Charlie's tail was bent at the end and he had balding spots. He was scratching and rubbing the end of his tail a lot, showing that he was suffering from urine burns on the skin of his tail.

Although underweight and starved of company when he was removed, Charlie put on weight and in time was introduced to other squirrel monkeys at Monkey World, where he moved into a large enclosure with two female squirrel monkeys for company

Charlie is one of the lucky ones. Sadly there are many more primates who aren't so lucky.

Join us in calling for the end of primates as pets.

Find out more