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

2  A ban on keeping pet primates

7. In view of widespread consensus that it is not appropriate to keep primates as pets, the question arises whether the keeping and trading of pet primates should be banned. The majority of our witnesses supported a ban.

Arguments in favour of a ban

8. Many organisations, including the RSPCA,[7] Wild Futures,[8] Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries,[9] Captive Animals' Protection Society,[10] Primate Society of Great Britain[11] and Humane Society International[12] support a ban. They generally do so on the grounds of animal welfare, but also on public health and safety and the need to protect vulnerable or endangered species in the wild. Arguments typically made in favour of a ban include the following:

·  Keeping primates in a domestic environment is incompatible with their complex social, behavioural, environmental and dietary needs, as well as their need for specialist veterinary care.[13]

·  Most people lack the expert knowledge required to care properly for primates, which is demonstrated by evidence of solitary primates being kept in small cages, being fed inappropriate diets, suffering physical and mental abnormalities and needing to be rescued.[14]

·  Primates have a high capacity to suffer if their needs are not adequately provided for, as they have complex brain physiology and advanced cognitive abilities.[15]

·  Keeping primates as pets creates public health risks, including the spread of zoonoses and the risk of physical attack. This reflects the fact that primates cannot be domesticated even if they are kept in a domestic environment and bred in captivity.[16]

·  The keeping and trading of pet primates can be detrimental to conservation efforts, encouraging the trapping and transportation of wild animals from their native habitats.[17]

·  A ban on keeping primates as pets is important for sending out a clear message that the activity is not appropriate or acceptable. Conversely, as long as the trade and keeping of primates as pets in the UK remains legal, it gains legitimacy and endorsement.[18]

·  A ban would be easier and cheaper to enforce in the long run than regulation which permitted the trade and keeping of primates as pets to continue. It would also assist in the crackdown on fake or bogus advertisements for pet primates.[19]

·  A "grandfather clause"[20] could be used to avoid many of the negative consequences that opponents of a ban highlight.[21]

·  A number of countries have already banned the private keeping of non-human primates. Belgium, which prohibits mammals from being kept as pets unless they are on a "positive list" of species deemed suitable to be kept as pets, reported a reduction in the number of illegal animals in sanctuaries following the introduction of this measure. It also found that the public played a useful role in monitoring and enforcing the ban.[22]

·  Public opinion and expert opinion both favour a ban.[23]

Arguments against a ban

9. Those who disagree with the imposition of a ban on the keeping of primates as pets may still oppose the keeping of primates in a "pet like manner". Where they differ from supporters of a blanket ban is in their belief that it is possible for private individuals with the necessary skills, experience and resources to provide the care and conditions that address primates' needs adequately.

10. Opponents of a ban also believe that current or prospective regulation can ensure that animal welfare is protected and that a ban would create unintended, undesirable consequences. Some also believe that attempts to ban the keeping of primates as pets represent an ideological attack on keepers and breeders and represent the "thin end of a wedge" that will eventually encompass a ban on keeping all exotic animals as pets.[24] Arguments typically made by those who oppose a ban are outlined below:

·  Primates should not normally be kept "as pets" but this does not rule out the possibility of private keepers caring for these animals in a satisfactory manner.[25]

·  Keeping primates in a domestic setting in isolation and on inappropriate diets is already against the law, so there is little to gain from further legislation or a ban. Animal welfare is more likely to be protected by effective enforcement and application of existing legislation rather than new legislation or a ban.[26]

·  A wider ban on the trade in primates or on all private keeping of primates would mean that knowledgeable people who keep primates in appropriate conditions would be unable to continue to do so. This would penalise law-abiding, responsible owners because of the actions of irresponsible owners;[27]

·  A ban would be disproportionate to the scale of the problem and without any real foundation.[28]

·  A ban would be costly and difficult to enforce.[29]

·  A ban on the trade in primates as pets could force websites overseas where they are out of reach from UK authorities but could still advertise pet primates to prospective buyers in the UK; the work of the Pet Advertising Advisory Group (PAAG)[30] is more likely to prove an effective way of addressing the issue;[31]

·  A ban on the trade and keeping of primates as pets would force these activities underground and, in doing so, deny pet primates proper veterinary care because keepers could not take the animals openly to a vet to be looked at.[32]

·  It is arrogant and illogical to suggest that only a zoo or sanctuary can keep animals to a certain standard. Zoos themselves evolved from private collections of wild animals established by the wealthy.[33]

11. While we support the potential adoption of a ban in principle, this is a draconian step that must be based on solid evidence. In the next chapter, we highlight the absence of reliable data and make recommendations for addressing this "evidence deficit". In subsequent chapters, we look at ways of safeguarding the welfare of privately kept primates by suggesting improvements to the existing regulatory framework and the way in which it is implemented.

12. A ban remains a possible way of addressing the welfare problems associated with primates being kept as pets. However, this is not a solution that should be adopted in the absence of reliable, compelling evidence or while there is still potential for improving the operation of the existing regulatory framework. Obtaining a more reliable evidence base must be the first task for Government.

7   RSPCA [PAP 36], para 32 Back

8   Wild Futures [PAP 10], para 24 Back

9   Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries [PAP 19], p.1 Back

10   Captive Animals' Protection Society [PAP 13], p.1-2 Back

11   Primate Society of Great Britain [PAP 37], para 1.3 and 2.1, 3.7 and 4 Back

12   Humane Society International [PAP 23], para 7 and 25. Back

13   For example: William McGrew [PAP 4], p.1; British Veterinary Association [PAP 33], para 4-7; Neotropical Primate Conservation [PAP 22], p.1-2; Wild Futures [PAP 10], para 2 and 4;  Back

14   For example: Animal Welfare Party [PAP 3], p.2; Monkey World [PAP 31], para 6 and 16; ; Primate Society of Great Britain [PAP 37], para 3.2; Kay Farmer [PAP 18], p.2;  Back

15   For example: Lisa Riley [PAP 24] , p.2; Humane Society International [PAP 29], para 17; RSPCA [PAP 36], para 24; OneKind [PAP 26], para 9 Back

16   For example: Nedim Buyukmihci [PAP 5], para 5; Emergent Disease Foundation [PAP 7], para 2.1-2.4 and 4.3; Douglas Richardson [PAP 42], para 2 Back

17   For example: Hannah Buchanan-Smith [PAP 16], p.1 and para 2.3.4; Eurogroup for Animals [PAP 21], p.1; Care for the Wild International [PAP 9], para 3b-d and 4a;. Back

18   For example: Wild Futures [PAP 10], para 21-24; Captive Animals' Protection Society [PAP 13], para 4; Animal Protection Agency [PAP 28], para 17 Back

19   For example: Rachel Hevesi (Wild Futures), Q.9; Eurogroup for Animals [PAP 21], p.2; RSPCA [PAP 36], para 31. Back

20   A grandfather clause is one which exempts certain people or things from the requirements of a piece of legislation. It typically allows a pre-existing class of person to continue doing something even though the law prohibits others from doing it. It is often used as a transitional measure when a new regulatory regime is being introduced. Back

21   For example: Kay Farmer [PAP 18], p.2; Animal Protection Agency [PAP 28], para 19; Rachel Hevesi (Wild Futures), Q.18; Wild Futures [PAP 10], para 21-24;RSPCA [PAP 36], para 32 Back

22   For example: Rachel Hevesi (Wild Futures), Q.9; European Alliance of Rescue Centres and Sanctuaries (EARS) [PAP 17], para 1.4; Eurogroup for Animals [PAP 21], p.2; Back

23   For example: Born Free Foundation [PAP 15], p.3; RSPCA [PAP 36], para 29-30; Humane Society International [PAP 29], para 21-22. Back

24   Private animal keeper and breeder, name withheld [PAP 20], p.3 Back

25   For example: Pet Industry Federation [PAP 40], p.1; Wetheriggs [PAP 2], p.1; Alison Cronin (Monkey World), Q.40 and 41; Name Withheld [PAP 30], para 1 Back

26   For example: Reptile and Exotic Pet Trade Association [PAP 11], para 11; Defra [PAP 27], para 7.2; Lord De Mauley, Q.79; Back

27   For example: Andrew Greenwood, Q.40; Mike Seton, Q.17; Alison Cronin (Monkey World), Q.36; Defra [PAP 27], para 7.3; Wetheriggs [PAP 2], p.1; Back

28   For example: Reptile and Exotic Pet Trade Association [PAP 11], p.2; Lord De Mauley, Q.45; Defra [PAP 27], para 7.3; Pet Industry Federation [PAP 40], p.2 Back

29   Andrew Greenwood, Q.40; Defra [PAP 27], para 7.2; Lord De Mauley, Qq.45 and 75; Back

30   The Pet Advertising Advisory Group (PAAG) is an advisory group made up of animal welfare organisations, specialists, vets, and Defra representatives working to promote responsible pet advertising. Back

31   Lord De Mauley, Q.52 Back

32   Christopher Moiser [PAP 6], para 7; Wetheriggs [PAP 2], p.2; Lord De Mauley,Q.75; Mike Seton, Q.19; Name Withheld [PAP 20], p.2;  Back

33   Alison Cronin (Monkey World), Q.41; Name Withheld [PAP 30], para 1 Back

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Prepared 10 June 2014