Information on Primates in the Private Sector 

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The following words are ramblings I have emailed to people writing to me about wanting primates. What you read below are various thoughts I have shared with them. 

I have 2 brown capuchin monkeys who grace our home. I do not promote or advocate for the general public to have primates in their homes as it is a HUGE commitment. I feel there is a need for fair regulation of primates in the private sector (i.e.. lots of education and hands on training before a private individual should be given a permit to have a primate) 

There are so many aspects to take into consideration. For example, most infant primates have to be pulled from their mothers in the breeder colonies (how would you feel having your newborn taken from you - by either being tranquilized and waking up to your baby being gone, or simply caught by a large net and "manhandled" while your baby is pulled away from your breast?) Granted there are some primate mothers who have no desire or instinct to care for their babies but that is simply not the majority of cases. My male was an abandoned baby, the female came to me as an adult who was no longer able to live in her original home (I don't know her infant history). 

Juvenile primates are wonderful, beautiful, endearing babies. The problem arises when they mature. Many people want to keep their primate a "baby" all its life and try to force it to not grow up. There are some primates who will allow this, but many reach puberty (just like us) and insist on becoming independent. Which is how it should be! Unfortunately, this is when many primates are "gotten rid of" either by selling them, trying to find a sanctuary that is not already overflowing, or euthanasia. 

Puberty means hormone induced behaviors which these animals honestly have no control over, no matter how hard humans try to circumvent this aspect of their lives. Primates are ultimately wild animals, whose behaviors are ingrained into their biological nature. Biting, scratching, displaced aggression, to name a few can become very dangerous behaviors to interact with. Jealousy is a big factor in a primate's thought process. It may bond with one person in a family and not allow anyone to come near that person without confrontation. Primates are not generally safe around children as the jealousy issue and domination can cause many problems, some of which very dangerous. My son has a few scars from our male capuchin (when the male was less than 2 years of age) due to jealousy and our learning to live with a completely different culture. One second is all it took for the teeth to say "Don't touch my mama. She loves me best and I feel threatened by you"!! Primates cannot talk to express their feelings - teeth and nails say it all. We have come to learn the body language of the 2 capuchins who live with us. But it takes a lot of intense observation and is never 100% foolproof. 

For the well-being of a primate, who can conceivably live for 30 - 45 years, it is important for a private individual to look at their lifestyle and determine if they are prepared to modify it to meet the needs of another being for that long a time. You may end up with a primate who is safe to interact with all its life BUT there is just as much chance to have a primate that is far too dangerous to continue to safely interact with as it matures into an adult. Are you prepared to build a habitat for that dangerous primate and see to its well-being for many years without the "privilege" of ever interacting in close contact with it again? 

Some people "modify" their primates to accommodate themselves. The canines of a full grown
capuchin, along with the strength of their jaws, are capable of removing an entire finger from your hand. The canines may be altered in a variety of ways, but the remaining teeth can also do much damage to our relatively sensitive skin and underlying tissue. Full tooth extraction is a major debate with various primate caretakers. This is a major surgery for a primate which can result in their death - due to various complications. If the primate survives the surgery, their eating habits need to monitored much closer. Should the day come, you can no longer keep that primate - it is next to impossible to place that animal with others of its kind because it hasn't got the defense of its teeth in a troop situation. These are some important things to take into consideration before acquiring a primate. Some people go so far as to have the fingernails (even up to the first joint) removed entirely from the primate! Some people have been known to even have a tail removed to make diapering "easier". These types of alterations are serious and, in my humble opinion, should NOT be done. A person who finds it necessary to alter a primate so drastically should not have gotten one in the first place. A small domestic animal would have been a much wiser choice for them (if any animal at all). 

There are so many factors involved with such a magnificent animal as a primate which makes it so very important to fully educate yourself and get some "hands on" experience before deciding you are able to alter your lifestyle enough to accommodate the necessary well-being of a primate. 

The size of each species may make the danger a little less, such a Tamarin versus an old world
macaque but the danger still remains. Also, the danger in old world monks, such as macaques, of deadly disease should be considered. Not all macaques have these diseases but it is an important consideration. Be sure of the reputation and credibility of the people you are speaking with when it comes to the health of any animal you may be considering to join your family. Another consideration - do you have a veterinarian nearby who is willing to work with you and your primate when needed. There are many vets who refuse to see a primate. So be sure you have one available for regular checkups and emergencies. 

I would be happy to answer any questions I can or direct you to others who are more versed in a certain area than I. 

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"I received an email from someone who has children from ages toddler to 14 who is wanting to add a black-cap capuchin to the family. I cautioned that monkeys and kids are often a bad mix, but to be honest, my black-caps are excellent with my kids. Seeing as though my kids are very different from typical kids I am hoping that some of you can help me provide information." 

My personal belief developing from experience and intuition has led me to believe that monkeys, as with many other animals, have the ability to distinguish between the able-bodied and disabled, children as well as adults. I have seen this behavior in Mookie and have read many books and articles on this subject. I believe that a large percentage of families with children are not good candidates to have a monkey live with them. Unless the children and adults have been brought up around monkeys, and understand the intense relationship these creatures have. There is a huge amount of chance taken of children getting hurt because they do not understand the hierarchy and thought process of a monkey. Even in families who have been brought up with monkeys - the risk of injury is great. Read about even the adults being bite, even tho they have years of experience. The option is to have the teeth done is not to be taken lightly, that option should be well thought out. 

I do know of several monkeys who are used in therapeutic settings very successfully, but the monkeys are mature adults who have personalities suited for that. When one adds a young monkey to their family - there is no guarantee the monkey will have a good personality with children. There are so many factors involved. I really like the idea one woman had and implemented with the breeders having people automatically joined to the Simian Society, as well as give out the SS manual. I feel it is very important for prospective primate caretakers to spend hours upon hours working with a primate before getting one. I feel that is a very important key to the success of placing primates in appropriate homes. 

I have rambled on long enough.............. Please remember these are my personal opinions only. Each person must make up their own mind how best to prepare themselves for the addition of a primate to their family. 

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"Does anyone else seem to see a difference in the disposition of the species???" 

I can only speak from my experience with Milo - who is a 5 yr brown capuchin female. She came to us in March of 1998 (at the age of 5). I continually give thanks for the blessing we have been given having her here. Not only is she a wonderful companion for Mookie but she allows me to do anything with her. But I hesitate allowing interaction with others as she can  change from a sweet angel to flying teeth with anyone but me. (Her canine forward were removed before she went to the Wise Monkeys, who graciously donated her to me for Mookie, with permission of her previous owner). She can do a number on skin with just the molars. I don't want to take chances with her biting anyone so we don't push interaction with anyone but me. She will visit with a few people here but I am always wary of her change in mood. 

*Smiling* I must say tho - when she comes into heat - she turns into the biggest hussy I have ever met. She calls to any male who might happen in here at that time. Should they come into the room the cage is in, she begins to drool and whine for them to come close enough for her to wrap her tail around their arm thru the bars and salivates and chatters incessantly at the male. Poor Mookie just cowers in the bottom of the cage wondering where the wild woman has come from and where his sweet Milo has gone? He has shown no signs of having any clue what to do when she is acting in such a strange manner. She still allows me to do whatever but my "soul sister" who can safely interact with her any other time knows to stay clear of her when she is in heat!!! Milo goes into attack mode over even a "wrong glance" at her. 

I do wonder if the removal of her teeth had any effect on her altitude. I really don't have a clear story of her life before here. In the research I did before acquiring a monkey - it seemed to be universally agreed upon that the browns are the least hyper of the capuchins, the black & whites the most hyper and the rest fall in between. It will be interesting to hear from people who live with more than one type of capuchin...... 

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I would like to point out a very important aspect of primates living in private situations. If you are at all "uptight" about biological body functions: DON'T GET A PRIMATE !! These wonderful creatures have no inhibitions whatsoever: masturbation, sexual intercourse, general exploration of all body orifices are common actions. If this type of behavior makes you uneasy or embarrassed - DON'T GET A PRIMATE !! They have not been culturally programmed to be ashamed of their bodies or any of its functions. Don't expect you can "de-program" them. 

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Milo, 5 year female brown capuchin, came to me with the canine teeth and front teeth removed. She only has her molars left. She eats everything that Mookie, my 3 year male brown capucin who has all his teeth, eats including unsoaked monkey chow. My monkeys get a diet of monkey chow (zupreem), a variety of fruits and veggies, grains, nuts, seeds and other assorted foodstuffs from our local natural food store. They have a bit of whatever we are eating for lunch and supper also. Fresh clean water is given daily in a water bottle (that was a job in itself to rig up a monkey proof holder!!) They get occasional treats but I try to refrain from them having a lot of "junk food". 

The only regret I have about her teeth being gone is her inability to groom in a manner accustomed to her nature. She dearly loves to groom not only Mookie but me as well and she is unable to satisfactorily do this without her front teeth. She is forced to do the best she can by picking away at the object of her intent by using her fingernails. I would give most anything to be able to replace her front teeth!! It makes my soul ache for her when I can feel her desire to chew a piece of flesh around my cuticle which needs removing. She does well with her nails but it just is not the same. I will not judge others for what they feel they must do for the safety and care of their charges but I pray the time never comes I have to make that decision to remove or not to remove teeth. She has never bitten me but has bitten others in our family and can do a number on skin with those molars! Mookie has his entire set of teeth, so far. Should he present a serious hazard to Milo's well being, by unethical use of his canines on her, I will not hesitate in having his canines altered for her safety only. 

To play the devil's advocate here................ how many of us have other animals whom we have had altered in one way or another?? Sterilization of dogs and cats, tails docked, ears cropped, large livestock castrated, birds wings clipped, and the list goes on................ how many of us have had various surgeries (some necessary, some purely elective i.e. cosmetic surgery) I for one have had serious debates about human sterilization being promoted for welfare recipients who seem to keep popping out kids for more money, parents of the foster kids I have cared for, who continue to have more children to abuse............ who are we to say what is good for one is good for all. What it all boils down to is perspectives and objectives. Are we making a conscientious choice for our monkeys sake or for our own gratification? I would just hope that anything we do with our monkeys (or any other animals we share our lives with) is done with great forethought and not just a whim. This is a great forum for all to present their points of view, drawn on from personal experiences. 

Read everything, ingest it, then do what your heart and soul guide you to do. What more can we do as mere humans?????? 

I feel blessed to have her as a part of our family and expect NOTHING of her but to be a companion to Mookie, anything else she allows me to do with her is just icing on the cake!! She has reciprocated by allowing me the liberty of doing most anything I ask her. She lets me bath her in the shower with me, in the tub with Mookie and just her in the tub alone getting a shower. 

She allows me to put a diaper on her at night when it is time for bed. She and Mookie both sleep with me every night. They wait patiently until I am ready to head upstairs, no matter what time, no matter how sleepy they are............. they recognize the opening of my middle desk drawer which contains the scissors to cut the hole in the diaper for their tails and go to the opening of their cage and wait for me to let them out - one by one. Mookie, being Mr. Chauvinist, always comes out first. Milo, being the lady she is, waits her turn. I hook them to my "portable umbilical chords" (dog leashes attached to the belt loops of my blue jeans and we head upstairs. We have playtime for anywhere from 5 minutes to an hour on the bed, with a small lamp at the head of the bed. As soon as the light is turned off they take their respective places to sleep. Mookie on the pillow as close to my head as he can get, sometimes so close I have to move his sleepy body so I can breath!! Milo snuggles down into the curve of my shoulder wrapping her tail around my neck, again sometimes so tightly I have to loosen her grip to breath. I wake to them still clinging to me in the morning. The moment I rise they waken and grip my hair or whatever is in easy reach, to hang on as we start our day together. 

Mookie, having lived with me since he was very young (several weeks of age), knows just how far he can push my buttons and he does!!! He will get himself so wound up, like a hyper kid, that he sometimes gets carried away and play bites too hard. I will tell him to be gentle or "NO bite" and if he finds himself unable to get himself back under control, I will resort to biting him back to make him realize the error of his ways. I know I am taking my chances when I do this as Milo could very easily take his side and attack me to defend him, YET she has chosen to defend me instead. Now when Mookie gets himself out of control, she will attack him and put him in his place. Seeming to dare him to do me any harm. He now watches her every move when he and I are playing and I only have to say "OW" a bit loud and Milo is ready to come to my aid. I give thanks daily for such blessings. I also must keep in mind that this scenario could change at any given time and I become the brunt of both of their energies, but for now I could not ask for any more from either of them. 

We go outside to play when the weather permits, again on their "portable umbilical chords",
checking out bugs and other critters. Mookie grew up here on the farm and fears very little. Milo, on the other hand, is very nervous being outside. She spends a good part of the time hiding in the security of the front of my shirt. As time goes by she is getting a little braver and more secure in her surroundings. I am honored she trusts me to the extent she does. I can think of no greater gift than the unconditional love I have been given by Mookie and Milo. I find each day to be as fascinating as the previous one, as I watch them. I can't imagine a time I will grow tired or bored of their actions. Some days I do not insist Milo come out to play and Mookie and I share each other alone. When he returns to the cage, Milo comes to greet him and the hug and gaze into each others eyes!! How awesome it is to see the emotions they share and allow me to witness. Sometimes at night they will also curl up together with Mookie putting his arm around Milo's shoulder and they will sleep the sleep of lovers. The sight of this fills me with emotions beyond words. 

This is my story, it may never be yours but I wish for everyone to have the opportunity to enjoy their monkeys as much as I do Mookie and Milo.

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