Primates as Pets - Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee Contents

1  Introduction

1. The private keeping[1] of non-human primates ("primates") is currently legal in the UK and some estimates suggest that several thousand are being kept in this way.[2] Examples of such primates are marmosets, tamarins and capuchins. At the same time, consensus exists among veterinary associations, animal welfare organisations and Government that it is not appropriate to keep primates "as pets": defined as keeping these animals alone, in domestic settings, primarily for the purpose of companionship or personal interest. That is because primates have particularly complex needs and an unusually high capacity to suffer if their needs are not adequately addressed.

2. The pet industry has expressed similar views, with the Pet Industry Federation setting out in written evidence that it "is not in favour of these animals being kept alone under normal circumstances and does not support the keeping of primates in a home environment".[3]

3. During the passage of the Animal Welfare Bill through Parliament in 2006, a number of Members of both Houses expressed concern about the welfare of significant numbers of primates being kept as pets by those who lacked the ability to care for them properly. Responding to these concerns, the Government announced that "as a priority [it intended] to develop a code for the keeping of primates. Its likely effect [would] be to restrict their keeping to zoos, scientific institutions and specialist keepers".[4]

4. The Code of Practice for the Welfare of Privately Kept Non-Human Primates (the Primate Code) came into operation on 6 April 2010.[5] The impact assessment accompanying the Code states that it will be reviewed five years after it enters into operation to assess how effective it has been.[6]

Our inquiry

5. On 9 December 2013, we launched a short inquiry to capitalise on the opportunity presented by the Primate Code Review to help safeguard the welfare of privately kept primates. Our inquiry examined the issues around the keeping of primates as pets and whether a ban should be introduced. We sought written evidence on the following topics:

  • the extent of the trade and keeping of primates as pets within the UK;
  • whether the existing regulatory framework and Code of Practice offer adequate protection for the welfare of primates kept as pets and are being applied effectively, and
  • whether people should be allowed to keep primates as pets and, if not, how a ban might be implemented.

6. We received more than 40 written submissions from a range of organisations and individuals. These included animal welfare organisations, animal sanctuaries, the veterinary profession, the pet industry, private keepers, independent experts and Government. On 5 February 2014, we took oral evidence from three panels of witnesses, including the Minister, Lord de Mauley, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Natural Environment and Science. We are grateful to all those who provided evidence to our inquiry.

1   We use the term "private keeping" in the same way that it is used in the in the Primate Code. In other words, to refer to primates kept in private ownership by individuals or bodies corporate rather than by circuses, pet shops or establishments licensed under the Zoo Licensing Act 1981 or the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986. Back

2   RSPCA [PAP 36], para 8; Wild Futures [PAP 10], para 6; Humane Society International [PAP 29], para 10; Reptile and Exotic Pet Trade Association [PAP 11], para 20. Back

3   Pet Industry Federation [PAP 40], p.1 Back

4   HC Deb, 19 January 2006, col 156. See also HL Deb, 24 May 2006, col GC247 Back

5   Defra, Code of Practice for the Welfare of Privately Kept Non-Human Primates, 21 January 2010. Back

6   Defra, Impact Assessment of the Code of Practice on the Welfare of Privately Kept Non-Human Primates, 14 August 2009, p.1 Back

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Prepared 10 June 2014