The primate pet trade must be banned, not just regulated, to prevent suffering and imminent extinction, according to wildlife biologist Ian Redmond.
Mr Redmond is chairman of Bristol-based Ape Alliance, which encourages conservation organisations to work together, and also serves as a council member for the Primate Society of Great Britain.
“Keeping primates as pets in the UK not only causes unacceptable levels of suffering to the individual animals, but also influences the fate of wild primate populations and hampers efforts to halt biodiversity loss,” he said.
“To stem the tide of live primates being removed from the wild, the market for such animals must be eliminated.”
The illegal pet trade – along with logging, deforestation, transmission of disease and conversion of habitat, as well as poaching for bushmeat – has resulted in the decline of almost half of the 630 recognised primate species and sub-species across equatorial Africa, Asia and Latin America.
“As long as primates are kept as pets, they will suffer in poor conditions and wild primates will be endangered,” said Mr Redmond.
“The code of practice guidelines for the welfare of privately kept non-human primates, provide standards for primate pets, but suffering still occurs because enforcement is lacking.
“A driving force for this international market is the legality of private ownership and sale of primates in the United Kingdom and other developed countries.
“Because icons of popular culture and wealthy individuals keep them as pets, primates are perceived as fashionable and constitute a status symbol.”
Mr Redmond believes another problem is the portrayal of primates in films, television and advertising.
“Infant and juvenile chimpanzees, orangutans, capuchin monkeys and macaques are depicted by the entertainment industry as docile, trainable, cute, humorous and good companions for humans, which fuels the primate pet trade,” he said.
The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs committee met on Wednesday as MPs heard evidence from independent experts on the keeping of non-human primates.
To watch the evidence session, visit Parliament’s website.