The needs of marmosets

Mickey the marmoset

This International Primate Day, thousands of primates remain confined inside domestic homes across England and Wales.

Our senior scientific manager for captive wild animals Dr Ros Clubb, talks us through how the basic needs of a marmoset monkey contrast with the conditions that we generally find them being kept in.

Marmoset monkeys are by far the most common type of primate that we have found being kept as pets. They’re a clear example of how difficult it is to meet the welfare needs of a primate within a domestic home.

Primates are highly intelligent and complex wild animals, and we strongly believe that they’re not suitable as pets. Please join us in calling for an end to keeping primates as pets.

Marmosets are:

  • Intelligent. They need stimulation but are often housed in small, barren cages with very little to stretch them mentally.
  • From sunny, tropical countries, and suffer from being housed indoors with no access to sunlight. This makes them very susceptible to developing a crippling bone disease that’s similar to rickets in humans.
  • Highly social, and would naturally live in large family groups. In domestic homes they’re often kept alone without other primates, after being removed from their parents at a very young age.
  • Most comfortable when they can escape from anything that scares them, especially by climbing higher. In domestic settings, many are confined to small, short cages, where they’re exposed on all sides, and can’t escape upwards or hide.
  • Specialist feeders. They spend a lot of their time looking for food and feeding – using their specialist teeth to gnaw bark and then licking up sap. In domestic homes they are often fed processed foods like Ribena and marshmallows, that are bad for their health and give them no stimulation.
  • Food for some predators. But they’re often put in the stressful position of being kept in the same room as other family pets like dogs and cats.
  • Capable of covering long distances. In the wild they might travel over half a mile a day, but as pets they are housed in small cages with no freedom to roam.
  • Inquisitive, so they’re put at risk by being kept in households which are filled with hazards like sockets, ashtrays and sharp objects.

These are just some of the ways in which the needs of marmosets are often not met when they are kept as family pets. We’re receiving an increasing number of calls to our cruelty line regarding primates in domestic homes, and have witnessed many sad cases.

Lola’s story

Lola the marmoset in a small cage © RSPCA

One such case is Lola, a marmoset monkey who was living in hugely inappropriate conditions in a Swansea family home.

We rescued her after she was spotted being advertised for sale on social media. Despite having contacted an exotic vet for expert advice, her family were unable to cope with her.

When our inspector first went to check on Lola’s condition, she was being kept loose in the family’s living room.

In the corner of the living room was a very small cage that measured no more than three feet wide and three feet tall, with a UV light suspended above it.

There was very little in the way of stimulation, or to allow her to express normal behaviour. There was also a Staffy-type dog living in the house, who we heard Lola had occasionally attacked – showing her level of discomfort.

The family who owned Lola at the time were trying their best to care for her, but they were not able to cater to the complex needs of this social and intelligent primate. Even with the best of intentions, they could not provide her with a suitable environment.

Luckily the family were happy to work with us, and signed Lola over to our care. She’s now been moved to a specialist wildlife facility where she can be cared for properly, and in the company of other primates.

Although Lola is now having her welfare needs met, we believe that somewhere in the region of 5,000 primates – mainly marmosets, but also capuchins and squirrel monkeys – are still being kept as pets across England and Wales.

Take action for primates

The need to take action for primates in England and Wales is stronger than ever. Please join us in calling for an end to keeping primates as pets.

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