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The Horror of suburbia's squalid pet monkey trade:

Thanks to stars like Justin Beiber the animals are all the rage, but behind the fad is shocking cruelty

  • Justin Beiber once owned a Capuchin monkey called Mally
  • They are becoming increasingly popular as pets
  • Trade in marmosets, another small species, is completely unregulated
  • Owners often end up being cruel through simple ignorance
  • Even zoos struggle to keep healthy monkeys because of specialised diet

28 December 2013

 
Marmosets and capuchins are incredibly difficult to look after in captivity, despite their small size

Outside, a frost has hardened the suburban back lawn to a square of brittle mud and concrete.

From inside a cage in the garden, two little monkeys survey this sorry landscape with bored, expressionless, yet disturbingly human eyes.

The balmy, verdant jungles of their native South America are a very long way away.

This is their life, shut outside a house in the West Midlands 24 hours a day. there's nothing for these marmosets - typically sociable, playful, curious and intelligent animals - to do, not even a toy to play with.

He spends his days in the living room, while his owners, Keith and Sue Watkins, 'humanise' him to prepare him for sale.

Albert - as they've called him - is at least allowed out occasionally and has a few plastic toys to play with.

Meals also punctuate the boredom: he is usually given fruit, but sometimes gets some chips to nibble on and a bottle of Fruit Shoot as a 'treat'.

It's quite a departure from a marmoset's diet in the wild, where they eat plant gums, fruit, flowers, insects and other small animals - even snails or lizards.

Animals such as Albert are amongthousands of wild monkeys being bought and sold in Britain as part of a growing trend for keeping them as pets.

Surprisingly, the breeding and selling of small monkeys such as marmosets, tamarins and squirrel monkeys is legal in Britain. You don't even need a licence.

Because of a lack of regulation, it's not known how many monkeys are kept as pets in the UK.

In 2009, it was thought to be up to about 7,500. But given their increasing popularity - partly due to stars such as Justin Beiber keeping them - there are now believed to be may more.

Animal rescuecentres are currently over-run with badly treated, sick and mlnourished monkeys. And with an increasing number of cruelty cases reaching the courts, there's growing concern that the trade should be much more stringently regulated - or even banned.

 
Justin Beiber once owned a pet capuchin monkey called Mally which he tweeted pictures of

VIDEO: Animal Shelter takes Justin Beiber's monkey into it's care

In fact, the Government is so concerned that the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee launched an enquiry earlier this month to consider these very issues. It will report next year. In the meantime, breeders continue to ply their trade.

I went undercover to seee the conditions some small monkeys are kept in and the type of life they are forced to lead. It left me shocked and saddened.

It wasn't hard to find monkeys for sale. Type 'buy onkey' into any internet search engine and dozens of opportunities to purchase these creatures come up.

The Watkins - an amiable couple in their 50s - were advertising Albert, the baby marmoset, on a popular classifieds website.

Most ads are posted by people who breed monkeys in their own homes and sell them on the internet with no questions asked.

It's a licence to print money: a female marmoset goes for a minimum od £1,200, a male can fetch up to £800.

And there are plenty of buyers. Exotic animals are becoming ever more desireable, with owners increasingly wanting rarer and more unusual pets.

So, over the years, monkeys have been brought into the UK after beig captured in their more usual habitats of Africa, Asia and South America, and subsequent generations have been bred in this country for profit.

The problem is they don't make good pets.

Born to be wild, you can't cuddle, pet or play with them. So, after the initial thrill has worn off for their owners, many of these creatures are left to their own devices.

Yet marmosets live for about 20 years and capuchins - one of the few small monkeys for which you do not need a local authority licence - can live up to the age of 50.

So some monkeys suffer. Primates just like us, they need other monkeys for company, consistent stimulation and specialised food to stop them developing physical and psychologocal problems.

But they rarely get it, Certainly, at the Watkins's house in Walsall they don't.

The couple may have four adult marmosets in the back garden - two breeding pairs in separate cages - but they have little idea of how to provide for their needs, according to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs strict guidelines on the animals' diet and habitat requirements.

Take little Albert's diet for example.

'He likes chips,' says Sue. 'He will have water, but as a treat we give him Fruit Shoots.'

 
However the singer was forced to abandon the pet while on tour in Germany in a row over paperwork

Of course, it's not food fit for the tiny monkey who should be on his mother's milk for the first year of his life. But the baby's diet is not the only thing they are getting wrong.

So desperate are the couple to sell Albert, tey advised our undercover investigators not to get a second monkey even though experts agree thet beed to be kept in pairs (at least), as they are social animals.

'One's a pet,' said Keith, 59. 'They're not a pet if you have two. The day you put another one in, you've lost them. And it doesn't matter if you both work, as long as you have time to feed them twice a day.'

The couple say they got their first marmoset in January last year, but now they have two breeding pairs kept in 6ft-by-2ft wide cages, with a section left open to the elements, in their back garden.

These creatures may be from a hot climate, but they're kept warm by just one heater - set on 'frost' to keep it just above freezing - even though there was ice on the ground when we visited.

The Watkins family, who also breed Staffordshire bull terriers didn't appear too concerned about checking out potential buyers; they asked me no questions about my lifestyle, even though from my questions I made it clear I didn't have a clue about how to keep a monkey.

'I say for £800 they must want it,' argues Keith.

Even if he did, by chance, get a good owner, Albert's future still doesn't look bright, says Rachel Hevesi, director of monkey sanctuary Wild Futures in Cornwall.

They're one of the specialist animal shelters in the UK dealing with the casualties of this trade and have taken in a dozen former pets in the past two years.

'That monkey is not going to survive,' she says. 'His diet is hopeless. It's hard to reproduce what marmosets in the wild eat - they have special teeth to get gum from trees.

'Because marmosets are very small, people think they are easy to care for, but they are highly specialised for a particular way of life and diet. Even in zoo conditions, they struggle to keep marmosets healthy.

'And Albert's been weaned too early - he should be taking milk from his mum for a year.

'He also needs to be with his mum for two years to learn how to be a monkey, otherwise you get a horrible cycle of hand-reared monkeys made to breed, then rejecting their babies who, in turn, have to be hand-reared,'

Wild Futures is one of many sanctuaries in the UK that has seen a marked ris ein the number if pet owners asking them to take in a monkey they can no longer cope with.

In 2008, Monkey World in Dorset took in just four monkeys -  yet in the past 18 months the number has soared to 26.

Director Alison Cronin, admits: 'We can't keep up with it. Were overflosing. It's a nightmare. These animals are abused and neglected and we're picking up the pieces.

'I have a waiting list as long as you can imagine from upset and distressed owners who were misled.

'They were told monkeys were wonderful family pets, but have found that, in fact, they can be aggressive and develop mental and physical problems if not fed and kept properly.'

The governement and these animal protection agencies and charities are right to be worried.

In the past two years alone the RSPCA has prosecuted five people for mistreating small primates. A guilty verdict often results in a lifetime ban on keeping animals as pets.

Dr Ros Clubb, a senior officer at the charity, says: 'As well as being fed an inappropriate diet, the main problem we see is these monkeys being kept alon in very small cages with nothing to stimulate them.

'Because of this, they often develop behavioural problems. They can also get diabetes and rickets where the bones don't form and fractures.'

As well as the right diet (which varies depending on the breed), to be kept successfully monkeys need to live in huge enclosures full of branches through which they can swing and be made to forage for their food as they would in the wild. But few are kept in these conditions.

'It's largely ignorance,' says Rachel hevesi. 'People aren't deliberately cruel, but they don't have the information or on't understand.

'They tell us: "We feed then what we eat - we're all primates." But often humans don't feed themselves well: fried food and sweets are not going to do monkeys much good,

'We had one monkey who looked OK physically when he came in, but his blood tests showed he had high cholesterol.

'It turned out his favourite foods were roast beef and potatoes followed by trifle with loads of cream and custard.

'Another called Joey lived indoors in London in a cage the size of a wardrobe for nine years.

'Not only did he end up physically disabled - he had hip dysplasia where his legs didn't align properly and his hips sockets were malformed - his face is unusual-looking because the body couldn't make enough calcium to grow bone, so it replaced it with cartilage. The problem is, we know that there are more Joeys out there.'

Every sanctuary we spoke to wants the Government to ban monkeys being kept as pets. So does Linda Wood, 44.

She used to own a capuchin, but earlier this year came to the conclusion that he'd be much better off in a sanctuary.

'I slowly realised monkeys are wild animals and shouldn't be caged,' she said. 'You can't make them happy as a pet in the long term.'

Linda, a catering supervisor from the Scottish Borders, bought two capuchin brothers, called Tam and Dodge, in 1998.

'We'd had other exotic creatures, such as snakes and scorpions, and my husband thought monkeys were interesting and intelligent,' she says.

'We looked into it and thought we had a house with a back garden adequate enough for them.

'They had a specially-built heated indoor enclosure in the garage and an outdoor enclosure with climbing frames, tyres and wooden logs. They weren't in a small cage in the living room. They also had a good diet of fruit, vegetables, eggs and mealworm.

 
Fussy: Because of the marmoset's specialised diet and need for activity and company, even zoos struggle to keep the animals healthy while in captivity.

'But by 2006 they started to fight with each other. We had them castrated but it didn't stop the aggression, and later thet year they had a huge fight in which Tam killed Dodge. I can't tell you how upsetting it was.

'Afterwards Tam was a lot friendlier, but more recently he began to pace about in his cage. When we allowed him into the house, we noticed the pads on his feet were sore. We later found out he had frostbite because of the Scottish weather.

'We knew we couldn't let it continue, so we contacted Wild Futures. When I saw the wasy their monkeys live, swinging about in the trees with other monkeys, I knew that was what Tam needed.

'It was an extremely hard decision to give up our family pet, When i dropped him off I was crying so much I couldn't speak.

'But seeing him now i know i made the right decision. Even though we did our best - and at the time we thought we were giving him an adequate life - it still wan't fair on him.

'A monkey Shouldn't be in someone's living room or garden. they need to be stimulated, You can't just ignore them or think they will be fine locked in a cage on their own. i realise that now. But at the time I didn't know any better.'

Sadly, many people still mistakenly think it's easy and right to keep a monkey at home. For all their sakes, let's hope the Government acts swiftly to end their suffering.

The Mail contacted the Watkins family earlier this week to give them a right of reply.

Mr Watkins told us: 'Fruit Shoots are full of vitamins. It's only once a week. My grandson and granddaughter drink it. And the chips aren't very often - once a month.

'He won't be ill in the future - we don't give him enough. He might nibble an end off them; he doesn't eat a whole bag of chips.' they declined to commet further.

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