If you're like me (oh, stop laughing) (and stop sighing with relief, too), you sometimes find yourself thinking: Gee, there must be a bunch of really good bills in Congress, bills that (if passed) would really do some good, but which are doomed to fail because the problem they address isn't at the top of anyone's priority list. Wouldn't it be nice if someone would tell me about them, so that I could support them? And wouldn't it be nice to support something that wasn't at the center of a political fight, too? Luckily, I have found such a worthy bill, so I'm going to take advantage of my position of awesome media power and ask
both of the the millions of readers who hang on my every word to support it. (If any other bloggers want to use their awesome linking powers to help, feel free. This one might die of neglect.)
H.R. 1329 and S. 1509, both known as 'The Captive Primate Safety Act', would make it illegal to transport primates across state lines to be kept as pets. (More exactly: it would add non-human primates to a list of "prohibited wildlife species" which it is illegal to "import, export, transport, sell, receive, acquire, or purchase in interstate or foreign commerce", except under certain circumstances that don't include pet ownership. Click the link and look for subsection e if you're curious.) This is a very, very good idea, on several counts.
First, unlike dogs and cats, who have had thousands of years to adapt to us, nonhuman primates have the psyches they need to survive in a jungle or on a savannah, not in a human home. Most people buy them when they are cute little babies. (Wrong in itself: they are infants who would normally stay with their mothers for several years.) At this point, like infants of most (mammalian) species, they are quite tractable and submissive. However, this (predictably) doesn't last. When they hit puberty, many of them become aggressive, and try to start dominance fights with members of what they think of as their pack, but you think of as your household. Sometimes they start with what they think of as the weakest members, but you think of as your children. Since most apes and monkeys are very strong, and have vicious bites, this is not pleasant. (Another thing that's not necessary in the wild: attention to where one pees. When you're up in the trees, you don't need to care about that, so most nonhuman primates don't. Consider the implications for a monkey-owner's carpeting, furniture, etc. Consider the fact that almost every animal gets diarrhea sometimes. Yuck. Etc., etc.)
Second, they are agile, athletic, clever, inquisitive, and have opposable thumbs. As someone who has owned cats and dogs, I have often thanked the God I don't believe in that they had neither the intelligence nor the opposable thumbs required to do things like open cupboards and turn doorknobs. Monkeys do. And they love to tear things apart for fun -- the contents of your pantry, your tax files, books, whatever. Here's an excerpt from an article that's generally supportive of nonhuman primate pet ownership, but only when the owners know what they're getting into:
"Growing monkeys may pull down drapes, shred cloth, chew wood, spill drinks, steal food, take possession of articles and refuse to return them, damage house plants, torment other household pets, soil or stain furniture, tip chairs, break knickknacks, ink pens or dishes, tear books and papers, get into cleaning fluids or baking ingredients, open drawers, cabinets, unlock or open inside and outside house doors, open refrigerators and windows, remove window screens, open baby proof latches and lids, break glass, push large pieces of furniture over, urinate into television sets or other electronic equipment ect. Monkeys are escape artists and may unfasten their belts, their leashes, wiggle the bolts from their kennel carriers, find ways to escape cages or other housing. Such behaviors are not only damaging to your home and property but can be dangerous to the monkey as well."
Third, they are not very trainable. Lots of people confuse intelligence with tractability, but the two are very different. Apes and monkeys are smart, but not tractable, except when they are young. Most of the chimps you see on TV are (in chimp terms) young children; by the time they get anywhere near adolescence, they are generally unusable as performers, since (understandably) they are more concerned with things like establishing dominance over other primates than with pleasing us.
For these reasons, nonhuman primates make really, really bad pets. They are destructive and at times vicious, and, as I said, they bite hard. As a result, most people who own them end up keeping them in cages. This is really dreadful for very intelligent, very social, emotionally complicated animals. And it's even worse when you consider that nonhuman primates tend to live from fifteen to thirty years; chimps in captivity live until around sixty. That's a very long time to be in prison.
Besides that, they are also a public health hazard. As I said earlier, monkeys bite. From the article cited earlier:
"It is not reasonable to expect that you will never be bitten by any monkey. The relatively docile youngster eventually turns from play-aggression to the serious aggression of an adult. Proper management techniques go a long ways in coping. The larger the monkey, generally speaking, the bigger the problem. Yet it is hard to prepare someone for the onslaught of mature aggression in a monkey. Have you ever seen a rabid dog in the throes of an attack--the pursuit of an angry bull in a bull ring, the vicious ripping power of a lion's canine teeth? A mature monkey, even one who was hand-raised, can attack a friend or stranger with equal vengeance. An angry monkey has the cunning and dexterity to leap into the air and accurately take a swipe an the human eye, or to bite the human body in the most vulnerable places, the jugular vein, the veins of the wrists, the nerve-filled fingers of the hand. It almost takes the discipline of a professional trainer to deal with the personalities of some individual monkeys in a constructive way as they mature."
This is a danger to members of one's household, and to anyone the primate encounters when he or she escapes, since biting is one of their normal reactions to stress. (And they are very good at escaping. Here's a partial list of press reports of escapes.) But besides the bite itself, monkeys and apes also carry diseases. Since they are a lot more like us than cats or dogs are, they are susceptible to many more human diseases, and we are susceptible to more of theirs. Here is an article on all the diseases one can get from nonhuman primates, including ebola, Marburg, monkeypox, viral hepatitis and all sorts of delightful things. One that's particularly worth noting is Herpes B, which is widespread in many species of macaques. They tend to be asymptomatic, but when humans get Herpes B, they usually die. (And ask yourself this: how would a human doctor even know to look for a disease normally found only in macaques?)
So, to summarize: owning nonhuman primates as pets is bad for the owner, really bad for the primate, and bad for public health. Bad, bad, bad. And what do you do with your pet primate once you've decided you don't want to care for him or her any more? If you're lucky, you can find a sanctuary that takes them in, but there are very few of these, and they are generally full. (Here's the story of a snow monkey who did find a place at a sanctuary.) You certainly can't reintroduce them into the wild, any more than you could drop a human child into an African savannah and expect good results. Nonhuman primates, like humans, learn a lot from their parents, and when you bring one up as a sort of peculiar and hairy human child, you do not put it in a good position to survive in the wild. Most often, people either keep them in cages for the duration, abandon them, or euthanize them. All told, it's a sad, asd story.
Despite this, you can buy them on the internet, or drive off to various hateful "exotic pet dealers" and purchase them. H.R. 1329 and S. 1509 would make it illegal to "import, export, transport, sell, receive, acquire, or purchase in interstate or foreign commerce" non-human primates as pets. This would be a very, very, very good thing, according to me.
If you agree, just click here: it's a page about this issue from the Animal Protection Institute, and contains links to lists of sponsors and co-sponsors of the bills, so that you can thank your Senators and Representatives if they have sponsored them or, more likely, urge them to; and also links to the House and Senate pages, where you can find the names and email addresses of your Senators and Representatives. Or just write them on your own, and tell them that you support this bill, and why. If you feel really inspired (hey, a girl can dream), here's the link for their entire "exotic pet campaign", aimed at banning not just private ownership of nonhuman primates but of other wild animals as well. That page has a lot of useful links, including a list of state laws; it turns out that it's perfectly legal for me, in Maryland, to buy an elephant, a gorilla, or a rhinoceros. And that's just crazy.