RSPCA: Welsh couple banned from owning pets after marmoset monkey left 'screaming' in pain

The RSPCA says it wants the keeping of monkeys as pets to end, after the mistreated marmoset, named Precious, had to be put to sleep

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A Welsh man and women have been banned from keeping animals for 10 years, after RSPCA inspectors found their pet marmoset monkey screaming, rolling and unable to walk.

Laura Pittman and Jonathan Leighton Phillips, both of Rhondda Cynon Taf, appeared at the Merthyr Tydfil Magistrates Court on 27 September, where they pleaded guilty to two offences under the Animal Welfare Act. They admitted to failing to provide adequate and appropriate care for their marmoset - named Precious - leading to severe metabolic bone disease, and also failing to ensure the species' unique needs were met.

In November, the pair were handed a 12-month community sentence, ordered to pay over a thousand pounds each in court costs and fines, and banned from owning pets for the next decade. The white-faced marmoset - commonly known as a Geoffroy’s marmoset monkey - was put to sleep on veterinary advice to prevent further suffering.

The court heard a written statement from RSPCA deputy chief inspector Gemma Cooper, stating that her two owners had not researched how to care for a marmoset before purchasing her, and had been feeding her the wrong diet and had not been meeting her needs. DCI Cooper said the son of one of the defendants had called the charity alleging that the previous owner of the marmoset had died - and Precious was given to them to care for.

Precious unfortunately had to be put to sleep, as her bone disease was too severe (RSPCA Cymru/Supplied)Precious unfortunately had to be put to sleep, as her bone disease was too severe (RSPCA Cymru/Supplied)
Precious unfortunately had to be put to sleep, as her bone disease was too severe (RSPCA Cymru/Supplied)

He told the RSPCA that they didn’t know how to look after her, and thought she needed emergency vet treatment. In April this year, she visited the Ferndale property and saw Precious for the first time, with the defendant’s son telling her the marmoset was around 18 months old. “He invited me into the living room of the house where the marmoset was confined in a small cat carrier and all of her belongings were packed in a bag."

DCI Cooper said she was “shocked” by the confidence in which the man handled her given that he had only just acquired her. “The marmoset was screaming and rolling around in a chaotic and unpredictable manner and unable to walk,” she said. “He went through the bag of things for Precious, explaining that the primate pellets were what she should be eating but that she doesn’t like them so she has been eating mainly grapes and fruit. He said that he has heard the owner was feeding her raisins and so she probably has ricketts.”

Precious was then signed over to the RSPCA and taken to a vets where she was examined by veterinary staff and hospitalised for further treatment and investigation. The exotic specialist found she had severe metabolic bone disease due to not getting the correct nutrients from her diet, and recommended she be euthanised.

Through enquiries the RSPCA discovered that the defendants had been trying to sell to Geoffroy’s marmosets in January through social media. They later admitted to being her owners. The RSPCA also said the marmoset had been on her own for about a year, despite being a highly social animal, and had been fed an incorrect diet including yoghurt - which was not recommended. Her enclosure was also "far too small".

After sentencing, RSPCA wildlife head Dr Ros Clubb said: “This is a heartbreaking case and Precious will undoubtedly have suffered horribly." They feared there were many more marmosets like Precious suffering behind closed doors, because people did not know how to look after these animals properly.

"As well as causing suffering to the animals, the owners risk falling foul of the law," she added. "That is why we, and other charities, are so concerned about the situation and wish to see the keeping and trade of primates as pets come to an end. 

“Because of the specific needs of these animals their level of suffering can be extreme. As well as dietary and environmental needs, primates are highly social animals and they have extremely complex behavioural and social needs - but sadly in many cases they are being kept alone. They are wild animals that do not belong in people’s homes.”

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