Depressed monkeys self-harm in caged hell as Britain’s squalid pet trade exposed

Nada Farhoud


Crippled with bone disease, baby Leo could hardly move, dragging his back legs behind him.

The then three-month-old common marmoset was kept in a tiny cage alone, a far cry from the jungles in South America and Africa.

Found with matted fur and trembling in pain in a flat in Camden, North London, he was rescued by the RSPCA in January 2013, part of the squalid but still legal suburban pet trade.

He is just one of an estimated 5,000 primates, some of the most intelligent and social creatures on Earth, who are kept in homes in Britain.

Worryingly, many suffer devastating illnesses from depression to brittle bones and even self-harm after being trapped in tiny cages, fed incorrectly and robbed of companionship. Some are so badly neglected they need to be put down.

Monkeys suffer physically and mentally when kept indoors in bird cages
Monkeys suffer physically and mentally when kept indoors in bird cages (Image: Monkey World)
They live a life of hell in confined spaces
They live a life of hell in confined spaces (Image: Monkey World)

Leo, thankfully, is now thriving after being cared for by Monkey World – Ape Rescue Centre in Wareham, Dorset.

It is hoped stories like his will be consigned to history after new legislation comes into force to ban primates being kept in domestic settings unless they meet zoo-level standards.

Updated welfare restrictions on the breeding and transfer of primates will also be introduced later this year.

Adverts show animals put up for sale online
Adverts show animals put up for sale online (Image: Monkey World)
This advert for a marmoset monkey was found on Facebook
This advert for a marmoset monkey was found on Facebook (Image: Monkey World)

This week the Mirror joined Lord Goldsmith, the minister responsible for animal welfare, at Monkey World.

The centre has taken in more than 100 primates from the UK pet trade, 78 saved in the past 10 years, and has more than 100 on its waiting list. Lord Goldsmith said: “Primates are highly intelligent and socially complex animals.

“When they are confined in tiny cages, alone and with little stimulation, their lives are a misery, which is why we are bringing forward this legislation to end the practice.”

The Mirror's Nada Farhoud with rescued marmosets at the centre
The Mirror’s Nada Farhoud with rescued marmosets at the centre (Image: Adam Gerrard / Daily Mirror)

Marmosets are the most commonly held primates in the UK, with capuchins, squirrel monkeys, lemurs and tamarins also popular.

Monkey World director Dr Alison Cronin has spent the last 27 years rescuing and rehabilitating primates from around the world.

The sanctuary was set up in 1987 by her zookeeper husband Jim Cronin, who died in 2007, to rescue chimpanzees who had been smuggled from the wild and abused in the illegal Spanish beach photography trade.

Dr Alison Cronin with orangutan
Dr Alison Cronin with orangutan (Image: Adam Gerrard / Daily Mirror)

Since then the site has rescued victims of wildlife trafficking as well as primates abused in the entertainment industry and laboratories.

But Alison, from the US, said the most chronic problem, which has resulted in some of the worst cases of abuse and neglect, has been from the legal pet trade in the UK.

She explained how the new legislation is desperately needed after seeing the demand for primate pets soar with many animals kept by the “uneducated public in bird cages in living rooms living on table scraps”.

Lord Goldsmith is beefing up law - pictured with the hunched skeleton of a captive monkey
Lord Goldsmith is beefing up law – pictured with the hunched skeleton of a captive monkey (Image: Adam Gerrard / Daily Mirror)

Alison added: “Many suffer from abuse or neglect, as they arrive at the park malnourished with rickets, mobility problems and psychologically damaged as a result of living in solitary confinement, inside houses.”

She also told how she was called to help capture a marmoset loose on the streets of North London and to identify the body of a dead monkey on the street after it was struck by a car.

Alison explained how the animals’ popularity is rising due to a demand fuelled by celebrity owners and a desire to get “likes” on social media platforms such as Instagram and TikTok.

Marmoset monkeys are in high demand
Marmoset monkeys are in high demand (Image: Adam Gerrard / Daily Mirror)

It is not hard to find monkeys for sale online.

A Mirror probe in January 2020 discovered dozens of monkeys from Blackpool to Brighton that were as easy to buy as goldfish.

At present, 85 species of monkey can be kept legally in the UK without a Dangerous Wild Animal licence or any type of register.

In July 2013, Clydie and Charlie, a pair of breeding marmosets, were found trapped in a filthy, tiny bird cage in a living room in Liverpool.

Clydie was kept con-stantly pregnant. She was discovered with a thick leather collar around her neck so her breeder could grab her to separate her from her babies shortly after their births.

The pair were also both extremely underweight, malnourished with broken teeth and had signs of organ failure. As a result of the burden of pregnancies, Clydie’s weak bones meant she had to spend long periods each day resting in a basket.

But thanks to a good diet, her mobility has improved and she can be found sprinting and leaping around her enclosure in Dorset.

But Charlie, sadly, had to be put down shortly after he was rescued when blood tests confirmed he had kidney failure.

Lord Goldsmith hopes stories like this will become a thing of the past after the Government introduces the Kept Animals Bill in Parliament later this summer.

It comes as part of the Government’s wider animal welfare strategy that includes microchipping all cats, a ban on trophy hunting imports and outlawing fur imports – which the Mirror has campaigned to introduce.

Lord Goldsmith said: “This ban will give primates the protections they need and is an important part of our Action Plan for Animal Welfare, which sets out some of the most ambitious animal welfare reforms for generations.”

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