Primate Rescue (August 2011)

Part of my organization’s mission is primate rescue. It is illegal to keep primates as pets though many people are unaware of this. People will often ask me why it is illegal because they believe that if you feed and care for it there is no problem. I always respond that apart from monkeys being highly social animals, there is increased risk of health problems and monkeys are not animals that can be fully domesticated. I often cite Jared Diamond’s Guns Germs and Steel, explaining that monkeys can be tamed but not fully domesticated, which leaves room for ‘wild’ behavior, most notably attacks. Most people understand this but I totally understand why people think they are cool pets. After all I’m sure many of you reading this blog think it would be cool to have a pet monkey whether it be because they are cute or good companions. But yeah, in the end it is just not a good idea to keep monkeys as pets. 

We confiscate monkeys from several places ranging from the depressing, tied to a rope in a small cage in a bar or club, to the somewhat decent pet owner. I once was on a motorcycle and another passenger was asking why I was in the bush and I explained to him my job. He started cursing me saying that we came and took his monkey and his monkey was his best friend. He went on and on about how if it weren’t for the law he would have fought us. This was super awkward as he is shouting this in my ear as we’re sitting three deep on a motorcycle. I tried to explain to him that the monkeys are happier with our organization and we introduce them to new families and hopefully reintroduce them back into the wild.
So the other day I was hanging out in the village and I saw the traditional head Chief. He called me over and said he had a monkey that he took from a man. I was confused because this particular chief is not the easiest to deal with and so I assumed the monkey was dead. I asked him and he said, “What will I do with dead monkey?” and we both laughed. I walked with him to his house and he explained that he saw the monkey in another town and demanded the man give it to him. This sounded much more like the chief, enjoying using his power in whatever way he can. I called my boss and explained to her what was going on and she said that I should collect the monkey if it was a baby and they would come for it in the morning.\
Sure enough, it was a baby putty-nosed monkey(estimated 3-4 weeks old). I thanked the Chief, picked up the monkey and headed home. My boss said that it would probably just sleep and I should provide a confined area and some fruit and water. I decided to place him on my chair after trying to put him in a box and in a small pen, both of which caused her to freak out. I put a small dish of water on the chair and a banana, both of which the monkey readily consumed. It soon after curled up in a ball and went to sleep. Well that was easy enough…or so I thought. I left to run some errands and half expected to return to my house and see it destroyed but alas, the monkey was still asleep. I got ready for bed and the monkey started crying. And I say crying but it was really more like jungle howling. I arranged the chair so the monkey was within reach and it relaxed when I stroked its head. Anytime I took my hand away panic ensued. Sometimes it would suck on my fingers like it was looking for it’s mothers breast. I felt pretty bad for the monkey but after 3AM I started feeling bad for myself. It was a combination of wanting the monkey to feel comfortable but not knowing quite what to do. I invited it into my bed and it clung to me like you would expect a baby monkey to. I might have been cute if not for the urination and less frequent though still annoying cries.
The next day I let him roam my front yard and it actually allowed for some pretty good informal primate education with kids and adults. By now she is hopefully with a new family in Calabar. While it was interesting to have a monkey as a guest, I am in no hurry to have anymore!
Note: They have named the monkey “benjee” in Calabar. How funny.
Note II: The monkey died in February. Unknown causes. 😦

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