The Phenomenon Of Monkeys As ‘Surrogate Children’


Rose is my name. Because I had cancer as a youngster, I am unable to have children. Now that I’m an adult, I want to have my own kid! So, lately, one of my closest friends bought a monkey, dressed it up, and brought it over to my place. It captured my heart. It made me think of a youngster. Then, about a week ago, she relocated out of state, taking the monkey with her. I decided right then and there that I wanted a baby monkey. I don’t have much money, therefore is there any possibility you might assist me and allow me pay for a monkey in installments? I’d even pay twice if I could pay in installments. I would do everything for a cute little monkey. I’d make an excellent owner. I like animals. Could you kindly assist me in locating a monkey to purchase?

The preceding paragraph was extracted directly from an e-mail communication. Rose’s “appeal,” with the subject line “I am prepared to give a monkey a decent home!” depicts a phenomena that may be correctly labeled “monkeys meant to behave as surrogate children.”

Despite the fact that this phenomenon has not reached levels sufficient to warrant inclusion in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, it is not uncommon for childless couples, individuals, or “empty-nesters” to seek the acquisition of a baby monkey to fill a psychological void in their lives.

The existence of a wholly dependent baby monkey may be meant by many of these persons to alleviate loneliness and sadness caused by a lack of human interaction, or the baby monkeys are often employed as objects for the projection of caring tendencies. Regardless of their intentions, and despite the fact that young monkeys’ characteristics resemble those of human primates, people who think simian primates are a good “substitute” for human offspring are, at best, misinformed.

Prepare for Disaster

Kari Bagnall, founder of the ‘Jungle Friends Primate Sanctuary’ in Gainesville, Florida, is all too aware with the catastrophic implications (for all involved monkeys) that may occur when a formerly dependent young monkey approaches puberty. It should come as no surprise that monkeys grow up to be exactly that: monkeys.

Kari narrated two anecdotes for this article that depicted real-life sad endings of ‘failed surrogate infancy’ for Buddie and Tyler, capuchin monkeys who are now permanent residents of Jungle Friends:

Buddie, our diabetic capuchin monkey, was born via the surrogacy of two homosexual women. Buddie was the baby they could never have; they cherished her and took her wherever they went, even to the mall to sit on Santa’s knee. Yes, they felt they had discovered the ideal answer until… Buddie began attacking one of the ladies so severely at the age of three that she could no longer approach Buddie without inciting an attack. She was likewise unable to approach her significant other while Buddie was there. This was permitted for a while until it became clear that neither lady was safe — they referred to it as a “blood bath” the final time Buddie escaped her cage as they were attempting to re-enter her.

Tyler was Vinny and Russ’ surrogate child. In his own words, Russ summarized Tyler’s early life biography:

“Tyler was bought to be the kid that my partner Vinny and I would never be able to have. We opted on Tyler as the closest we could approach to achieving our desire of having a child together since we couldn’t afford to take the adoption route that other gay couples have had success with.”

“Tyler was given the name Vinny Jr. at first. He looked like a newborn at first. He wore diapers, begged for a bottle in the middle of the night, wore baby clothing, and despite the hair and tail, he seemed like a baby to us.”

“Vinny Jr., who we hoped would bring us closer together, turned out to be a regular source of contention. My ex blamed me for Vinny Jr.’s lack of trainability, believing that I would ruin the monkey and destroy all of his training efforts. Needless to say, Vinny Jr. connected with me rather than his other father. When he was around two years old, he got bold enough to assault his other father. Vinny Jr. would draw blood from my ex the moment he spoke the word “NO” or tried to make him do anything he didn’t want to do. When our child began to assault him, my ex turned away from him and refused to have anything to do with him.”

“In the beginning, Vinny Jr. would accompany us everywhere, but after the rebellions began, we would constantly quarrel because Vinny would want to leave the child home alone while we went out, and I would not have it.”

“When we initially acquired our kid, he seemed to be the ideal child. We used to brag about our kid being a child for life, never growing up and leaving us, and never costing us a lot for a college education. Of course, as reality set in and our son began to act like the monkey he was born to be, all of our hopes were dashed.”

Tyler had heard the word “No” one too many times by the age of five! After the cops departed, the mace cleaned the air, and Russ was stitched up, it was plain to Russ that something was wrong with this image. Russ contacted Jungle Friends, and I eventually traveled to New York to prepare Tyler for his voyage to the refuge.

It’s a shame that Buddie and Tyler were denied the chance to be with their original moms and that efforts to transform them into human children repressed their natural impulses. Buddie and Tyler are fortunate in many respects since they are members of a select group of cast-off ‘failed replacement children’ who are placed in a permanent respectable shelter. Buddie and Tyler are allowed to be monkeys at Jungle Friends Primate Sanctuary, where they live in social groups with other monkeys. They are no longer compelled to act abnormally against their choice, nor are they in risk of being hurt as a consequence of revenge and punishment for opposing “discipline.”

Others are not so fortunate. Another capuchin monkey called Gus, for example, suffered terribly at the hands of “empty-nesters” who sought to subvert his natural instincts. On a public internet discussion board, the lady who called herself “Gus’ Mom” wrote the following:

I walked in to change Gus, and he attacked me like he had never been assaulted before. Garry rushed in just in time to see Gus rushing at my face, blood was everywhere, my blood. He took the baseball bat and knocked him off me into a chair, then grabbed him by the neck and tossed him back into his cage before rushing me to the hospital. I got 31 bites and rips on both arms, hands, and legs, with the worst being a bite to my left ankle and one bite to my left nipple. He continued assaulting, yelling and lunging at me, with nothing to excite him. I had barely finished changing his diaper when he whirled around, grabbed the leash off the cupboard door, and screamed and attacked me. This time, I’m walking on crutches because I’m in a lot of pain. The authorities were called in; they know it’s a monkey (Gus), photos of myself and the monkey have been taken, he’s been quarantined, and he’ll be put down after six months. They wanted to take his head right away. I tried with that monkey, for God’s sake… I’ve given him every excuse to make up for the other attacks…he didn’t want to get out of bed….he wasn’t ready to be returned to his cage….he was testing me, the “alpha” bit; however, today there is no excuse for what he did other than he is mean and viscious or a brain tumor? You’d have to have seen him to understand what I’m talking about: the expression on his face, the screaming, the never-ending attacks.

According to Dr. Shirley McGreal, Chairwoman of the International Primate Protection League, an organization that has championed the cause of primate protection around the world since 1973, “It is insane delusional thinking for any human, male or female, to believe they can provide the quality of care for a baby monkey that a monkey mother does. Nonetheless, many people believe that any monkey raised by humans is lucky.

In one ongoing case, a Brooklyn family believes they “adopted” their pet Diana monkey, which they bought from a dealer when she was a baby. The origin of the animal is unknown. Someone had shot her mother to get her if she was caught in the wild. No primate mother would ever abandon her child; in fact, when baby primates die, their mothers frequently carry them around for days, attempting to resurrect their bodies. When a mother primate dies, her sub-adult offspring frequently lose the will to live and die with her. If Diana was born in captivity, her mother and other members of her group would have to be sedated in order for her to be kidnapped. Her Brooklyn family dressed her in diapers and human clothing. When New York State authorities attempted to move her to a sanctuary, the cage in the background was visible on TV, the family received a wave of media sympathy. The monkey would spend her nights there, alone, and no wild baby monkey ever sleeps alone.”

“This family took two steps toward having a designer pet – designed for docility – before she was two years old, removing her uterus and ovaries and extracting all of her canine teeth. Anyone who does this to a pre-pubertal human child will be prosecuted.” “As their monkey matures, this family will face difficulties. Even if the human family provided adequate food and medical care, it cannot meet the sexual needs of a monkey. When the biting and destructiveness becomes severe, the monkey is likely to be discarded, perhaps to a sanctuary if she’s lucky, or perhaps to a lab or back into the breeding/dealing cycle.” “

Even those who do not oppose private individuals holding monkeys (and apes) in captivity recognize that the mistaken belief that monkeys can be “trained” to behave like human children has serious consequences.

When asked if he is familiar with situations in which monkeys are acquired to act as surrogate children, Kevin Ivester, a former board member of the Simian Society of America, said, “I know of numerous examples and also know that in most cases disappointment for the human and displacement (following mutilation, both physically and mentally) of the monkey, either to other homes, sanctuaries, or to the ‘great beyond’.”

In Maine, a self-described “private primate caretaker” elaborated:

A number of women obtain monkeys solely as child substitutes. They dress them in children’s clothes and feed them bottles well past the normal weaning age. Some primates accept the wearing of clothing, while others will do anything in their power to get rid of it. The issues with clothing on primates can range from causing abnormally warm body temperatures to giving the casual observer the impression that monkeys are just like human children. Bottle-feeding primates into adulthood may increase the risk of tooth decay, obesity, and diabetes development.

In many cases, this, in my opinion, is a recipe for disaster. There have been some successes, but this does not appear to be the norm. Primates mature in the same way that humans do. Primates, like humans, go through an adolescent stage. Primates in the wild and in the private sector go through this stage of development. For their psychological well-being, we must allow them to develop as naturally as possible while imprisoned. Problems frequently arise when the human insists on the monkey or ape remaining an infant. The primate rebels in the same way that human teenagers do, resulting in aggressively encoded primate behaviors. Biting and scratching by the primate is common, unlike a human teenager, who can express themselves more often with defensive words than physical attacks.

We expect our teenagers to act in this manner, even if we don’t like it. In my experience reading email messages, many people regress into some form of denial when it comes to their primates. They will go to great lengths to manipulate, discourage, or prevent their “primate child” from maturing normally. Primate modification is frequently used to avoid such behaviors. Sometimes it appears to work, but most of the time it does not. Teeth, reproductive organs, and even fingernails have been reported to be removed.

The negative results I’ve read about vary from person to person, primate to primate. Some primates are sentenced to spend the rest of their lives alone in a cage, with little or no human interaction. Others are “exiled” as a result of their “bad” behavior. Some primates may even be euthanized by the owner. Some primates are required to be euthanized by public officials because the primate bit someone These creatures are penalized and lose their lives for acting in a normal manner according to their species. This is tragic.

The people who consider their primates to be their children may become emotionally distraught, to the point of diagnosed depression, when tragedy strikes. Even those who realize the primates are individuals, needing special consideration, experience strong emotions when difficult situations must be dealt with. The person who is bitten by their own monkey may experience emotions ranging from disbelief to denial. “Why would my baby bite me?” is frequently asked in an email. Failure to realize biting/scratching is normal behavior in primates is perplexing to me. Even in documentaries about primates biting is shown to be natural behavior. Books about primates discuss this issue as well.

On the other hand, there is a growing opposition to all trade in nonhuman primates.

Hope Walker, Executive Director of The Primate Conservation & Welfare Society based in Port Townsend, Washington, offers the following information regarding the trade in monkeys acquired to be “pets”:

The trade in non-human primates is simply tragic. The tragedy begins when a prosimian, monkey or ape is taken from the wild –such as rhesus macaques, a species which is imported for biomedical research and often dumped into the pet trade — are then bred for the pet trade. Imagine the horror that these beings suffer, being stolen from their troops, to spend years languishing in a lab and then be sent to a “pet” breeder who repeatedly steals their infants.

The infants are bottle fed and, if they survive, find themselves on the open market, through live auctions and ads in trade magazines, newspapers or the Internet. When purchased, often for $6000 – $50,000 or more, they are shipped off to the new owners, who usually have learned the little they know from pro-pet primate organizations and the breeder that sold them the animal in the first place. As the monkey or ape grows, if it survives the trauma of losing its mother and the shipment, it matures into a wild animal capable of great damage to person and property, not to mention the very serious concerns regarding zoonotic diseases such as Herpes B, which is fatal to humans and which can lie undetected in Asian species of macaques for years. When the “pet” begins to bite, scratch, or otherwise attack, the owner either mutilates the poor being by removing its uterus, teeth and/or finger nails, or dumps it on a sanctuary.

Unfortunately the sanctuary “solution” is about to run out for these owners — the few legitimate sanctuaries for non-human primates in the United States are either almost at capacity or at capacity and we believe something must be done. Our organization is taking a two-pronged approach to the problem — education and sanctuary. We have developed an information kit, with fact sheets and a mini-poster, in order to educate the public, and we are actively working to raise funds in order to build a primate sanctuary, whose function will be to offer permanent, species specific sanctuary to ex-pet and biomedical non-human primates.

All things considered, it is usually a ‘Lose-Lose-Lose-Win’ situation when individuals acquire monkeys to be “pets”. The monkey’s biological mother loses when her baby is torn from her breast to be sold as a “pet”. The surrogate parent often loses when the monkey matures and becomes unmanageable. The monkey herself/himself usually loses by having her/his instincts stifled; by not receiving proper care; when inappropriate harsh discipline is administered in attempts to control the monkey; and through surgical mutilation, such as tooth removal. The only “winner” in this scenario is the dealer or breeder who profited from selling the baby monkey.

Like all wild animals, monkeys should be living in their natural habitats, not in situations where humans attempt to force domestication on them.

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