Inhumane Exotic Pet Trade Endangers Captive Primates and People

July 21, 2014
by Barbara Hodges, DVM, MBA – HSVMA Veterinary Advisor

Charla Nash on Capitol Hill
On July 10, Charla Nash was joined by The Humane Society of the United States' President and CEO, Wayne Pacelle (right), and members of Congress, including Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore. (left) and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn. (center right) on Capitol Hill to advocate for the swift passage of the Captive Primate Safety Act.  Pete Marovich/The HSUS

Pending federal legislation known as the Captive Primate Safety Act (S.1463/H.R.2856) would prohibit interstate commerce in monkeys, apes, and other non-human primates by prohibiting the transport of primates across state lines for the exotic pet trade. It would not constrain zoos, research facilities, universities, or wildlife sanctuaries.

This bill would protect both primates and people. Privately-owned captive primates are often deprived of the opportunity to perform many of their natural physical and social behaviors. And captive primates themselves pose significant public health and safety risks because humans—the primates’ caretakers and members of the greater community—are under the threat of serious injuries as well as the spread of life-threatening zoonoses such as tuberculosis, Ebola, and Herpes B infections.

Since 1990, at least 275 people—including many children—have been injured by primates. In 2009 in Stamford, Conn., Charla Nash was attacked and mutilated by a friend’s chimpanzee. She lost both hands, her nose, lips, and eyelids, and was blinded due to a zoonotic infection transmitted during the attack. Ms. Nash has suffered tremendously as a result of this disfigurement, and she has undergone complete facial transplant surgery.

At least half of all U.S. states currently prohibit the private possession of primates to some degree. However, federal legislation is necessary to bolster state law enforcement efforts since many sales of captive primates are transacted via the Internet or through out-of-state dealers and auctions. On a broader scale, a federal law would also be helpful in promoting global species conservation efforts.

HSVMA joins the American Veterinary Medical Association, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, The Humane Society of the United States, and other animal protection organizations and primatologists, including Dr. Jane Goodall, in condemning private primate ownership. Please join HSVMA in supporting the Captive Primate Safety Act by sending an email to your two U.S. Senators and U.S. Representative through this simple form»