Is it time to introduce a ban on keeping primates as pets?

In this blog Laura McAnea reviews some of the practical and ethical reasons why she thinks a ban on keeping pet primates should be implemented in the UK.

The majority of members of the public, animal welfare organisations and veterinary groups advocate a complete ban on privately-kept non-human primates. However, there are some private collectors who claim they are able to meet primates’ welfare needs and so they suggest a compromise of a restrictive ban which would only allow ownership in certain situations. The Government has not yet ruled out a complete ban but has suggested firstly improving current legislation and then reviewing it again at a later date. If at that point there is sufficient evidence to show that the welfare needs of pet primates are not being met, and that they are suffering, then a complete ban could be introduced.

Would an outright ban send primate trade underground?

Some people argue against a complete ban, saying that it might send the trade and ownership of primates underground. This would endanger their welfare even further, as owners would be less likely to seek veterinary care. However, I believe that the lack of knowledge on pet primate numbers, and how they are being traded already shows that most of this activity is underground anyway. Therefore, a ban will not create this covert problem; it already exists.

Legislation does not currently prevent pet primates from suffering

In my opinion, current UK legislation does not meet the requirements to protect privately-kept primate welfare and as a result many individuals are suffering. The Primate Code of Practice is too vague to provide effective guidelines; however, improvements are currently under review including the addition of species-specific appendices. The Dangerous Wild Animal Act (1976) and the Pet Animal Act (1951) are limited in their scope for regulating primate trade, however the main issue with these pieces of legislation is that in both cases the licenses are authorised by Local Authority staff, who often are not suitably qualified to know the exact welfare needs of so many primate species.

Hypothetically, with a considerable amount of resources, money and effort, perhaps tighter, more effective legislation with proper enforcement and a dedicated identification database could produce increased welfare states for pet primates. This is a double-pronged approach and can only ensure improved welfare if both frameworks are used simultaneously. But as the government has vetoed the introduction of a registry system, improving welfare legislations is basically redundant. How can we assess the health and welfare of individuals if we do not know where they are? However even if we could, the question of whether we should still remains.  

Ethical reasoning on a ban

From an animal rights perspective there is no reason to keep any animal in captivity, especially wild animals such as primates which are clearly unsuited to these conditions. Alternatively, a utilitarian viewpoint might rationalise using primates for research, education or conservation purposes, but it is much more difficult to justify keeping them as pets as the only benefit is the personal interest of a small minority of people over immense suffering of many individual animals. A contractarian perspective is the only one which would accept keeping primates in captivity as pets, on the basis that they consider that animals are here for whatever purposes humans deem appropriate. Personally, however, I do not believe there is any justifiable reason to keep primates as pets as they are not domesticated animals and are capable of high levels of suffering. 

Considering the legislative and regulatory issues surrounding privately-kept primates, combined with the fact that there is no ethically justifiable purpose to keep them as pets (personal human interest or companionship is not sufficient reason to cause such high volume of animal suffering) – my opinion is that a complete ban on keeping primates as pets is necessary and should be implemented sooner rather than later.


* This is a personal blog. Any views or opinions represented in this blog belong solely to the blog owner and do not necessarily represent the views or policies of World Animal Protection.