Loving Them to Death

by CJ Bain

Can a human raise a baby monkey just as well as a monkey can? Ask Tessa and BamBam.

In the spring of 2008, Jungle Friends Primate Sanctuary in Gainesville Florida was scrambling to save the lives of these two young capuchin monkeys. Each faced a different threat, bound with a common thread. Each was purchased and raised as a "surrogate child" by a human family.

baby monkey dressed upThe sale of non-human primates as surrogate children is a booming business, with hundreds of people each year literally buying into the lie. The exotic animal breeder pockets the profit, an infant monkey is torn screaming from her natural mother's arms, and another human "monk mom" has a cute, hairy baby to bathe and diaper and dress up.

The phenomenon of people "adopting" monkeys is not new, but the current growth of this trend alarms Kari Bagnall, founder and director of Jungle Friends Primate Sanctuary. The sanctuary is currently home to over 100 monkeys, and is approaching capacity. Kari knows from long experience that in a few short years many of today's new "monkey parents" will be begging her or another sanctuary to give their "child" a home.

Tessa near death from diabetesJust like the self-styled "mom" of Tessa, a four-year-old diabetic brown capuchin. Type 2 diabetes, caused by a poor diet, stress and inactivity, is common in 'pet' monkeys, but Tessa's diabetes was not diagnosed until she was near death: her blood glucose had skyrocketed to 1120. It was a race to get her glucose under control in time to save her life. Kari coached Tessa's 'owner' through the intensive process of establishing an insulin regimen and monitoring Tessa's progress until she was well enough to travel to Jungle Friends.

Tessa playing with Mario at Jungle FriendsUnlike some of the other diabetics at Jungle Friends - such as Connie, a capuchin who has received daily insulin injections since 1999 - Tessa was young and resilient enough to rebound from the unnatural lifestyle that almost killed her. With a proper diet and plenty of fun and exercise, she was soon weaned off of insulin and is having the time of her life romping and wrestling with other young monkeys at Jungle Friends.

Health problems, such as diabetes and metabolic bone disease, are frequently the cause of a "monkey parent" unloading their primate "child", but still more common is the trouble with BamBam, a weeper capuchin also purchased as a surrogate child. BamBam bites.

BamBam, a weeper capuchinBiting and scratching are natural behaviors for a monkey, but are not acceptable in a human family. In 2006, when she was only a year old, BamBam's biting landed her in a 30-day quarantine. After her release, she was bounced from home to home as a result of the 'owner's' personal problems, until she was finally confiscated late in 2007 following another biting incident. BamBam was held at Animal Control in Minnesota for five months, facing euthanasia. Fortunately for BamBam, she found a home at Jungle Friends before her time ran out.

Although the stories end happily for Tessa and BamBam, already there are so very many others not so fortunate. Too many times Kari hears of a monkey who was killed due to biting a family member, friend or stranger. Others are bounced from home to home over the course of many years and still more die of disease and heartbreak.

Only the concerted efforts of many caring individuals - fighting to pass protective legislation, opening and supporting sanctuaries, sharing with others the true cruelty and deception inherent in the exotic pet trade - can stem the swelling tide of primate exploitation. Let monkeys raise monkeys, in the wild freedom that is their birthright.

June, 2008

Tessa is healthy and happy nowBamBam living like a monkey at Jungle Friends