Pet monkeys: UK poised to clamp down on primate ownership - but RSPCA stills has concerns

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There are an estimated 5,000 primates being kept as pets in the UK

Keeping a monkey as a pet may soon be illegal unless you meet strict care criteria, but while the RSPCA welcomes the new law - it says the future of thousands of pet primates is still uncertain.

The Animal Welfare (Primate Licences) regulations policy has passed in the House of Commons on Wednesday (31 January), and will now go onto the House of Lords. The new policy would see it become illegal for a primate to be kept in a domestic setting in England - unless owners meet certain licensing conditions equivalent to those required in zoos.

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Once enacted, the keeping of monkeys and other pet primates will only be allowed under licence, although the changes would not kick in until 30 April, 2026. But the RSPCA is seeking clarity on what will happen to the estimated 5,000 pet monkeys being kept in the UK currently, with many of the more common pet species, like marmosets, living up to 20 years.

One pet marmoset recently had to be put to sleep after developing severe bone disease from an incorrect diet (RSPCA Cymru/Supplied)One pet marmoset recently had to be put to sleep after developing severe bone disease from an incorrect diet (RSPCA Cymru/Supplied)
One pet marmoset recently had to be put to sleep after developing severe bone disease from an incorrect diet (RSPCA Cymru/Supplied) | RSPCA

The animal welfare charity has long campaigned for a ban on the keeping primates as pets, due to it being “practically impossible” to meet their complex needs in a domestic setting. Public affairs head David Bowles said the legislation passing would be a really important moment for animal welfare - "ensuring primates can only be kept in an appropriate environment, as we all strive to create a better world for every animal".

“Too often, our dedicated officers are called to properties where monkeys live in the wrong surroundings, eat totally inappropriate diets and are at risk of suffering behind closed doors. This new law has the potential to change that," he said.

Dr Ros Clubb, the RSPCA's head of wildlife, added: “While this new law is an important step forward, we need a clear plan from the UK Government about the thousands of pet monkeys living in England. With no ‘grandfather rights’ in the law, we need Ministers to clearly set out how the welfare needs of these monkeys will be met once the new law comes into force."

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In Wales, the Welsh Government is also currently consulting on the future licensing of private primate ownership. A Welsh couple were recently banned from keeping pets for ten years, after a marmoset monkey in their care developed severe metabolic bone disease - which left the animal screaming in pain - from being fed an incorrect diet.

Dr Ros Clubb said at the time of sentencing it was a heartbreaking case, and they feared there were many more marmosets like Precious suffering behind closed doors, because people did not know how to look after the 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.

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