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The web can be a wonderful place to learn about anything that interests you!  Unfortunately, it can also be a place where things are said that are not necessarily true at all.  It is very disheartening to read about the non-human primates in captivity carrying all kinds of horrible diseases!  Even more disheartening, an unsuspecting public believes this nonsense, particularly when it seems to come from reliable sources, such as certain animal rights activist groups. 

This blog is not about monkeys in people's homes or zoos or sanctuaries.  It is about monkeys in captivity!  

Please do your homework before donating or supporting the cause of any of the animal activist groups out there.  Better yet, donate to your local humane society, offer temporary shelter to a stray animal, donate your time and energy to saving a whale or any other animal in need of food, medical care or a just a pat on the head.  Then you will know that your efforts have accomplished what you hoped they would!

Medical Myths and Misinformation 


There seems to be a lot of medical myths and rumors circulating  as "common knowledge" about many kinds of non-traditional pets, monkeys  included.  Much of this misinformation or incomplete information is spoken of as fact when it is mere opinion, and of those parts that are indeed fact, much is blown far out of proportion compared to reality. This tends to be done for political purposes, usually because someone "thinks it's wrong" or has a personal vendetta against a particular individual and their lifestyle or choice of pets. Animal rights groups raise millions of dollars a year and award themselves six-figure salaries by demonizing personal ownership of exotics.  This page hopes to provide accurate information to set the record straight. 

Monkeys in captivity are tested for TB.  The initial vet visit would likely include the TB test, similar to the TB test given to humans, a fecal sample, and blood drawn for various tests. Since monkeys share over 95% of DNA with humans, they are susceptible to many of the same diseases we ourselves carry, so it's worthwhile to check for any problems. That being said, they are more likely to contract a disease from us than vice versa. This is simply because of that difference in the genetic makeup of the two species... much like that between a horse and a donkey.


Monkeys now kept as companions have never seen "the wild", since they have not been imported into the United states in the past 30 years. Instead, monkeys have been“captive bred” here in the homes and enclosures of USDA licensed breeders, much like domestic cats or dogs.  The diseases often associated with monkeys are those found in some wild-living monkeys and  are not valid for the monkeys born and bred in the United States.


Think of your pet dog or cat... likely you have one. Would they receive the same vaccinations in the wild? Of course not, so diseases like Distemper, Leptospirosis, Feline Leukemia, FIV, and Rabies can decimate their "wild" bretheren where your own pet remains safe and sound. Even parasites like tapeworms, hookworms, roundworms, mites, fleas and ticks don't commonly occur in your pet where they do occur in animals living a more natural existance. So just because something CAN infect a pet, doesn't mean it DOES infect it. This is simply due to the level of care they receive AS a pet... but we'll discuss that elsewhere.


What is a zoonotic disease?


Simply put a zoonotic disease, or zoonosis, is any disease that can leap the species barrier and infect humans. Yep, any disease, and there are a lot of them. And this is not just a matter of non-traditional pets, but any animal, wild or domestic (cats, dogs, birds etc.).  The list is very, very long but most of them only minorly affect humans at all, and it's an exceptionally rare occurrance where a zoonosis has resulted in the death of any human being, let alone a healthy one.  That being said, let's examine some of the more prevalent zoonoses that are brought to the forefront when speaking about monkeys.


Rabies is a commonly mentioned zoonotic disease. Rabies is contagious; it is deadly. Monkeys, like all animals, can be infected with it, just like humans. But how many people, or even pets, do you know that have had actual, confirmed contact with a rabid animal? I'd imagine not many unless you're a specialist for the Centers for Disease Control. Rabies in the wild is rare, primarily because it's 100% fatal. Any animal that has come in contact with and been subjected to the flesh or bodily fluids of a rabid animal CAN contract rabies. However... that goes for all animals across the board, dogs, cats, humans, what-have-you. Rabies in any kept animal population is exceptionally rare, simply because wild animals tend to avoid interaction with humans at all costs, but there are rare circumstances where this is not the case.


Animals typically kept outside, like cattle, horses, and other livestock are most susceptible. Carnivores left to their own devices, like dogs and barn cats, are equally susceptible due to their predatory nature and investigatory instincts. Animals kept indoors and never allowed to roam free, like indoor housecats, monkeys, and most small caged animals have a near zero chance of contracting the disease. The chance is so slim I've never heard of anyone actually calculating it, it's that small. So, the chances of any monkey having rabies is even less than the chance of your neighbor having rabies for humans go out and about and do things no pet ever does. I've yet to see a pet monkey go hunting as some humans do.


Now, this brings us to a little bit of a fork in the road. If rabies is so rare in non-traditional pets, why do the authorities insist in testing the animal? Well, that's actually answered by the means in which vaccines are labeled in this country. Rabies vaccine is labeled for use only in domestic cats, dogs, and horses and no other animals. Why is this? Simple... those are the major animals kept by humans at the time the rabies vaccine was introduced. Horses were the motive power on farms, dogs did work too, and cats kept the rodent population under control. All were exposed to the deadly virus, so the vaccine was developed and primarily tested on them. How is a vaccine tested? A large sampling of animals is acquired... just how many depends on the test and the population of animals, but can range from 50 animals to hundreds or even thousands. They are then divided into two groups, a control group and a group given the vaccine. Both groups are then exposed to the virus, then after a predetermined time both groups are killed and their bodies sampled to determine whether the vaccine was effective. For rabies, this means decapitation and sampling of the brain tissue. Now for animals that are prolific and abundant, like dogs, cats and horses, this was not a challenge to purchase a couple thousand animals only to kill them. But for species that aren't as common, like non-traditional pets, the cost to investigate the effectiveness of the rabies vaccine would be astronomical, and the public outcry would be stupendous. That's why, in the decades since the vaccine was first developed, no other animals have been added to the label for on-label usage. Just as a note that no food animals were tested for the vaccine as any food animal exposed to the rabies virus is deemed inherently not fit for human consumption. Only on-label use is recognized under the current law and regulatory structures, even though zoological parks, private breeders, and average owners have been using rabies vaccine since it's creation on animals other than the three species mentioned with only exceptional cases (three noted among zoological species, if I'm not mistaken) of where the vaccine was ineffective at preventing rabies infection in an off-label usage. That's in all the years since the vaccine's creation in the 1930s.  In short, a monkey poses less of a risk than a pet cat that is free to go outdoors unsupervised.


Tuberculosis or "TB" is another disease commonly mentioned about non human primates. Just like in humans, Tuberculosis affects the respiratory system, and just like in humans, it's somewhat hard to detect without actually testing for it, but thankfully these tests are rather simple and for a pet monkey it should be carried out as part of a routine medical checkup every so often. Tuberculosis can be spread to other humans, but as such it is exceptionally rare in the parts of the world with reasonable access to medical care. These days, it's usually limited to contained groups that have, or have had, only limited access to medical care, or questionable medical screening. This is why tuberculosis is most commonly associated with the prison population, as many times individuals that become incarcerated have not been able to take advantage of, or perhaps afford, routine medical screenings and other parts of modern medical care. Unless your pet monkey is coming from a prison program (and there are prison programs to train animals for disabled people - more on that elsewhere), it stands a very very slim chance of having come into contact with tuberculosis, and even so, it should be routinely tested just to be on the safe side. As far as the likelihood of contracting tuberculosis in the first place.... how many people do you know that have had TB? And realistically you stand a better chance of contracting it from another human than from a monkey.....simply because of the differences in social habits. How many times have we seen kids wipe their nose with their hand and then take ours to cross the street?


Monkey Pox is not carried by monkeys. What?!?  Then how'd it get its name?  Easy... it was first DISCOVERED in monkeys about 45 years ago in a laboratory. Just like humans can get chicken pox, and we use the virus of cow pox to vaccinate against smallpox, monkeys can get monkey pox (as well as those others listed) but it's really a disease of rodents.


The origins of the 2003 monkey pox scare (yes, it was a "scare" rather than anything truly threatening) was an importer brought some Gambian rats into the country and for a time they were housed next to a number of prairie dogs (a rather friendly species of rodent native to the United States). Many people got sick and a few died... but actually a whole lot less than were killed by the flu that year and far fewer than were killed by gang-related gun violence.


Monkey pox manifests itself in humans with about the same virulence as chicken pox... and about the same results. Itching, scratching, general annoyance, discomfort from the little red pustules on your skin as your body's immune system fights the virus. And, if you're of normal health, in a week to 10 days it's done with for the rest of your life, more or less. Just like chicken pox can manifest itself as "shingles" later in life, there is supposition that monkey pox could do the same... however no one in this country has found out because the disease is indeed just that rare here - mostly because of our modern medicine yet again. So all in all the risk of contracting monkey pox is nil, and even if you do in all liklihood it'd just be a few sick-days from work.


Herpes type B is a version of the herpes simplex virus and is associated with "old world monkeys", specifically the macaques. Now to explain things in a fairly simplified manner, there are Great Apes, (the gorilla, the chimpanzee, the bonobo and the orangutan) Lesser apes (gibbons); and there are two types of monkeys...Old World monkeys, and New World monkeys.


The easy differentiation between monkeys and the other two is that monkeys have long or short tails whereas apes, when mature, do not (some have short tails as infants). 


Herpes B virus is extremely rare outside of a laboratory setting.  The chances of a pet monkey being infected with Herpes B are even less than your own chances because, again, of differences in the norms of social interaction.  I don't think I've ever seen a monkey confront a drug addict staggering around someone's front lawn.


Yellow Fever is occasionally mentioned in association with pet monkeys and other primates. Yellow fever is a mosquito-borne virus primarily common to tropical climates, but occasionally found in temperate climates.  There's two types of yellow fever: jungle yellow fever, and urban yellow fever. Urban yellow fever is spread among the human population by mosquitos feeding on an infected human, and then feeding on another human thereby exposing them to the virus. Realistically speaking, it is exceptionally rare in the US, and of the cases that are reported that are not of clearly foreign origin (as in someone took a trip to Panamaor Argentinain the last 30 days), are limited to the far southern tier of states in the US. Contracting yellow fever in the US is so rare you stand a better chance of winning the lottery jackpot twice after getting struck by lightning. There has never been, to my knowledge, a documented case of yellow fever being contracted by a pet monkey here in the US.


Ebola virus is a very deadly virus, but ebola outbreaks in humans cannot be directly attributed to association with monkeys, according to a study of the virus by the AmericanUniversity in Washington, D.C.  The complete study can be viewed here: https://www.american.edu/TED/ebola.html.   As such, the only documented cases in the US that were not of foreign origin (immigrants from Zaire or othe Afican nations, or people in contact with individual from that continent) were research workers exposed to the Ebola-Reston virus from infected monkeys imported to the research facilities from locations outside of the US (Italy and the Philippines provided animals involved in two incidents). The research workers contracted the virus but did not become ill.  There has never been a documented case in the United States of Ebola being contracted from a pet monkey.


In conclusion, the health risks posed by any non-traditional pet are minimal at worst, and near-absent at best. The US is not a third-world country with understaffed clinics, only mildly-educated physicians, lack of equipment, lack of practical pharmaceuticals, and at such great distance or cost to make the effort prohibitive. As such, it would be folly to think that the whole world is on a level playing field as far as risk of any given disease is concerned. Add to that the fact that most of the diseases and disorders spoken of are tropical in nature and the US is mostly a temperate climate. Include the fact that pets are not free-roaming creatures and you can clearly see just from a logical standpoint just how rarely interspecies disease transmission actually adversely affects the majority of the population - - - virtually not at all, which is how come most people have never heard of "zoonotic diseases". There's a reason for that, and now that you've read all this, you too know the reason!



The Monkey Poem

Three monkeys sat in a coconut tree,

Discussing some things that are said to be;

Said one to the others, “Now listen you two,

There’s a rumor that certainly cannot be true --

That man descended from our noble race,

The very idea is a total disgrace!”


“No monkey ever deserted his wife,

Starved her babies, and ruined her life!

And you’ve never known a mother monk

Leave her babies with others, - and bunk!

Or pass them on from one to another,

Till they scarcely know who is their mother.”


“Another thing that you never would see,

Is a monk build a fence round his coconut tree,

Forbidding all other monkeys from taking,

For then they would all become thieves in the making!

If I were to put a fence round my tree,

Starvation would force them to steal from me!”


“Here’s another thing a monkey won’t do;

Go out late at night and get in a stew,

Using a gun, a club or a knife,

To take some other monkey’s life!

Yes, man descended! - the ornery cuss;

But, brothers! - he didn’t descend from us!”