Is It Illegal to Have a Monkey as a Pet?

Monkey eating fruit from people
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Whether or not you can keep a monkey as a pet depends on where you live. Currently, there is no federal mandate on monkey ownership in the United States, and laws vary from state to state. Even in states that do allow for ownership, many counties, cities and municipalities have their own laws regarding primates.

If your state permits primates as pets, check the local laws before committing to ownership to make sure it's legal. If someone advertises cheap monkeys for sale in states with restrictions on wildlife, the seller may be in violation of the law.

Laws on Keeping Wildlife Vary Widely

There are some states with no restrictions on pet monkey breeds. There are others where having monkeys as pets is allowed with a permit or a license. And still others where there are some with restrictions on what kind of primate you can own, such as a finger monkey or a pet Capuchin monkey. Finally, there are a few states in which an outright ban is in place.

States That Allow Pet Monkey Breeds

These states have no restrictions or permits required for owning a primate:

  • Alabama.
  • Missouri.
  • Nebraska.
  • Nevada.
  • North Carolina.
  • South Carolina.
  • Wisconsin.

States Allowing Permitted Pet Monkey Breeds

These states require a permit or a license to own some breeds of primates or to own any primate:

  • Delaware.
  • Florida: A chimpanzee, gorilla, orangutang or baboon is a Class I wildlife animal, which is illegal to own unless it had been a pet before August 1, 1980. If so, the owner must have a permit for the animal and can keep it for the rest of its life. If the primate is a Class II wildlife animal such as a howler, guereza monkey or macaque, it also must have a permit for ownership. Both animal classes must follow specific regulations, such as caging requirements. Anyone who holds a pre-July 1, 2010 permit for a Class 2 primate can legally keep the animal for the remainder of its life. For Class 3 monkeys, such as a pet Capuchin monkey or finger monkey, an owner must have a permit.
  • Idaho.
  • Indiana: Permit for apes only.
  • Kansas: Permits allowed for small breed primates, like a finger monkey, squirrel monkey or pet Capuchin monkey. There is a ban on larger primates.
  • Maine.
  • Michigan.
  • Mississippi: Permit or license required for inherently dangerous animals including orangutans, chimpanzees, gorillas, macaques, mandrills or baboons. There are no restrictions or permits required for smaller primates, like a squirrel monkey pet.
  • Montana: Primates must have a one-time entry permit if coming from another state and an official health certificate.
  • North Dakota.
  • Oklahoma.
  • South Dakota: Both permit and veterinary exam required.
  • Wyoming.
  • Texas: Primates such as baboons, chimpanzees, orangutans, gorillas are considered dangerous wild animals and must be licensed. Smaller monkeys have no restrictions. 

States With a Partial Ban on Pet Monkeys

These states have bans on some breeds of primates and on primates after the law banning them has gone into effect:

  • Arkansas: Apes, baboons and macaques are illegal to own. If you already own a primate and you've moved to Arkansas from another state, you must show proof that you legally acquired it from your previous state.
  • Connecticut: There is a full ban on great apes such as gorillas, chimpanzees, and orangutans. Primates that weigh less than 35 pounds that were owned by a person before October 1, 2010 are legal.
  • Ohio: According to state law, illegal primates include the golden lion, black-faced lion, golden-rumped lion, cotton-top, emperor, saddleback, black-mantled, and Geoffroy's tamarins; southern and northern night monkeys; dusky titi and masked titi monkeys; muriquis; Goeldi's monkeys; white-faced, black-bearded, white-nose bearded, and monk sakis; bald and black uakaris; black-handed, white-bellied, brown-headed, and black spider monkeys; common woolly monkeys; red, black, and mantled howler monkeys. Primates such as lemurs and Capuchin monkeys have no restrictions.
  • Tennessee: There is a ban on Class 1 primates such as gorillas, orangutans, chimpanzees, gibbons, siamangs, mandrills, drills, baboons, and Gelada baboons unless an owner was in possession of the pet before June 25, 1991. There are no restrictions regarding other types of monkeys.
  • West Virginia: According to state law,  there is a ban on lemurs; tamarins (golden lion, black-faced lion, golden-rumped lion, cotton top, emperor, saddleback, black mantled, Geoffroy's); night monkeys; titi monkeys (dusty and masked); muriquis; Goeldi's monkeys; sakis (white-faced, black-bearded, white-nose bearded, monk); Uakaris (bald and black); spider monkeys (black-handed, white-bellied, browned-headed, black); common wooly monkeys and howler monkeys (red, black, mantled). Other primates like squirrel monkeys, pet Capuchin monkeys or finger monkeys have no such restrictions.

States That Completely Ban Pet Monkeys

These states have outright bans on primates, unless ownership took place before the law went into effect.

  • Arizona: Ownership of any primate is illegal, unless it took place before the date of regulation. If so, it must have a wildlife holding license.
  • Alaska.
  • California.
  • Colorado.
  • Georgia.
  • Hawaii.
  • Illinois: Unless owned before January 1, 2011, with permit.
  • Iowa.
  • Kentucky: Unless owned before 2005.
  • Louisiana: Unless owned before August 15, 2006, with permit.
  • Maryland: Unless owned before May 31, 2006.
  • Massachusetts: Unless owned before June 30, 1995.
  • Minnesota: Unless owned before 2005.
  • New Hampshire.
  • New Jersey.
  • Utah.
  • Vermont.
  • Washington.
  • New York Unless owned before January 1, 2005, with permit.
  • Oregon Unless owned before January 1, 2010, with permit.
  • Pennsylvania.
  • Rhode Island.

How a Monkey Differs From a Domestic Animal

Before looking for cheap monkeys for sale, potential owners should do their homework regarding what breed they want or whether to have one at all. Unlike dogs and cats who live life on our schedules and sometimes even eat what we do, primates are wild and will always remain so. They can be expensive to buy and care for.

Monkeys can live anywhere from 20 to 50 years and have nutritional needs that are unlike ours. They can quickly develop diabetes if they overeat or if they eat food from a human diet. Their health issues can be costly for owners and finding a veterinarian who treats primates can be difficult. They can also cause health problems for owners, as they carry parasites and zoonotic diseases.

No one can deny that baby primates are adorable, but they won't necessarily stay that way. When they turn about 3, they hit puberty and their demeanor sometimes changes. They become aggressive, hard to control, may even bite or scratch their owners and can destroy a home by throwing feces and urine everywhere. Domestication is not possible for a wild monkey who instinctively acts to assert its dominance.

Primates Operate via Hierarchy and Are Social Animals

If you own a monkey, there's a good chance it sees you as being in charge and thinks of itself as second in command, as monkeys instinctively operate via hierarchy. When a stranger comes between the monkey and its owner, it may see that person as a threat and bite or attack to maintain its status. Again, a primate acts on instinct and is wild by nature, so this is not behavior that can just be trained away.

Monkeys are social animals that develop normally around their kind. When they are out of their natural element, they can suffer psychological or emotional damage, which may not only hurt them but also their owner if they decide to lash out. Owners with aggressive primates they cannot control sometimes think they can place the monkey in a sanctuary, but sanctuaries do not always have the space or funds for additional animals. Even if they do, pets may end up living a lonely life in a small cage.

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