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

3  The scope and scale of the problem

The number of primates kept as pets

13. Witnesses quoted a wide range of estimates of the number of primates kept as pets. Most agreed that the numbers given were, at best, informed guesses. At one end of the scale, wildlife charity Care for the Wild International told us that "Within the UK, it is estimated that there could be as many as 15,000-20,000 primates as pets".[34] This seems to have come from figures quoted by primate keepers and dealers.[35]

14. A lower estimate was provided by Wild Futures and the RSPCA. Using data obtained from Freedom of Information (FOI) requests on the number of individual primates licensed under the Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976 (DWAA), the two charities suggested that between 2,485 and 7,454 primates were being privately kept throughout England, Scotland and Wales in 2009.[36] These numbers included estimates of rates of non-compliance with licensing requirements. By 2012, the lower bound figure for privately kept primates had increased by 21%. Wild Futures said in written evidence, "We now estimate that there are between 3,006 [and] 9,017 privately kept primates in Great Britain".[37]

15. In February 2014, Ros Clubb, Senior Scientific Officer at the RSPCA, and Rachel Hevesi, Director of the charity Wild Futures, acknowledged that this estimate was "very much a guesstimate"[38] but said that the figures were borne out by the proportion of animals arriving at the Wild Futures Monkey Sanctuary without a licence. However, Andrew Greenwood, a member of the British Veterinary Zoological Society (BVZS), told us that "the numbers are way overestimated, possibly by a factor of 10. The numbers of primates in this country is probably fewer than 1,000. We have had figures cited up to 9,000; they are completely out of the air".[39]

16. Defra has admitted the absence of accurate figures on the numbers of pet primates in the UK. In written evidence, it said: "it is not clear how many primates are kept privately in this country-the estimates range from 2,500 to 7,500. These are rough estimates based around numbers of 1976 Act licenses".[40] Primatologist and consultant in animal welfare, Lisa Riley, told us that without further research, there was little chance of building up a more accurate picture of the pet primate population in the UK:

    The number and species of primates kept in the UK is unknown, partly due to a lack of regulation and partly due to a lack of enforcement of existing legislation ... Without a national survey of pet keeping [,] numbers will only ever be estimates and thus the proportion of primates being kept well and those who are neglected or abused remains unquantifiable.[41]

The size of the primate pet trade

17. Similar uncertainty exists about the size of the primate pet trade. The RSPCA pointed out that "obtaining accurate data on the extent of the trade ... is extremely difficult due to a lack of regulation and the fact that most trade appears to occur in private".[42] The Animal Protection Agency, an organisation focusing on the trade in wild animals as pets, agreed:

    The scale of the primate trade is impossible [to] gauge as it is largely unregulated. Much of the trade is also clandestine. Primates are rarely found on sale in pet shops but, in some cases, can be ordered on request ... [Primate sellers] may use ... outlets such as password-protected forums and Facebook etc-methods that are common for other exotic animal traders.[43]

18. A further obstacle to accurate estimation of trade size is the existence of bogus or scam advertisements for primates on the internet. Animal protection charity OneKind observed that:

    It is ... difficult to measure the size of the trade on the basis of internet advertising, as this sector appears to be particularly vulnerable to "scamming", a fact that is regularly referred to in advertisements. This may be connected [to] the high cost of primates, from several hundred to several thousand pounds each.[44]

Lord de Mauley told us that:

    It is quite difficult [to measure the size of the trade by looking at advertisements] because I understand that there are quite a lot of bogus adverts; in fact, I suspect the majority of adverts are bogus and designed to defraud people. As I say, it is quite difficult to get a handle on an accurate number.[45]

19. An alternative view was expressed by Blue Cross, an animal charity and member of the Pet Advertising Advisory Group (PAAG). Blue Cross recently analysed the live advertisements for primates on the website UK Classifieds. It told us:

    There are around 350 live adverts concerning primates on UK Classifieds, [which are] split between those offering primates for sale and those seeking to buy a primate. In our opinion the majority of these adverts are genuine and not bogus or fraudulent. We are able to conclude this is the case by examining photographs for repeat images: examining vendor history on the site, and identifying trends.[46]

20. As with primate pet keeping, the absence of robust evidence on the size of the trade has allowed a wide range of views to flourish. The Reptile and Exotic Pet Trade Association (REPTA) considers that while, "There has, historically, been a small trade in primates as pets, predominantly wild-caught animals imported in the late nineteenth to late twentieth century ... today such a trade is non-existent".[47] Conversely, Lisa Riley pointed out that "If you Google 'monkey for sale in the UK', it is clear there is a huge problem and vast availability, particularly of deregulated species and marmosets".[48]

Undertaking further research

21. The Minister indicated a lack of appetite to undertake independent research on the scale and scope of the problem:

    I am doubtful that it would be a good use of resources to carry out a detailed survey. It would be an exercise fraught with practical difficulties, and it would be expensive to get anything near a reliable figure. Given the size of the problem, as suggested by the majority of welfare charities, it would be difficult to justify it.[49]

22. This argument is circular in nature. The Government does not have accurate figures for the numbers of primates kept and traded as pets but says that it does not want to conduct research to obtain these figures because the size of the problem does not justify it.

23. Wild Futures also told us, however, that "it would be wasteful of resources to attempt to research these figures further" given the numbers of primates that do not require licences and also the high rate of non-compliance with licensing regimes.[50]

24. We have been struck by the wide range of estimates of the numbers of primates both kept and traded as pets in the UK, as well as the lack of confidence in these numbers expressed by many witnesses.

  1. We recommend that Defra commission independent research on the number and type of primates being traded and kept as pets in the UK. To increase the reliability of this research, we recommend that private keepers be given six months to register their primates before research begins. This call for registration should be supported by a publicity campaign explaining the benefits of registration, or a sanction. The Government should inform us of the results of this research within six months of receiving them, along with its plans for securing the welfare of pet primates in light of these results.

34   Care for the Wild International [PAP 9], para 3(a) Back

35   RSPCA and Wild Futures, Primates as Pets: Is there a Case for Regulation?, July 2012, p.10 and RSPCA [PAP 36], para 8. Back

36   RSPCA and Wild Futures, Primates as Pets: Is there a Case for Regulation?, July 2012, p.10 Back

37   Wild Futures [PAP 10], para 6. Back

38   Q 4 Back

39   Q 29 Back

40   Defra [PAP 27], para 5.1 Back

41   Lisa Riley [PAP 24], p.2 Back

42   RSPCA [PAP 36], para 1. Back

43   Animal Protection Agency [PAP 28], para 4. Back

44   OneKind [PAP 26], para 5.  Back

45   Q 51. Back

46   Blue Cross [PAP 44], p.1 Back

47   Reptile and Exotic Pet Trade Association [PAP 11], para 4. Back

48   Q 28 Back

49   Q 55 Back

50   Wild Futures Supplementary [PAP 46], p.1 Back

previous page contents next page

© Parliamentary copyright 2014
Prepared 10 June 2014