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No more monkey business: Az bans primates as pets, allows hedgehogs

Arizona residents can no longer keep primates such as monkeys, lemurs, and gibbons as pets. They can get a prickly hedgehog, though.

Arizona's Game and Fish Department has made some changes to rules for live wildlife, and new provisions for domestic and captive wildlife kicked in Saturday.

Some of the notable changes are:

  • The removal of hedgehogs from the restricted live wildlife list, allowing them as pets.
  • Restricting more primates from being possessed by private owners without a special license, including all non-human primates, in what the department called an effort to protect public health and safety.
  • Prohibiting owners from allowing native desert tortoises to reproduce in captivity, in an effort to reduce the number of unwanted desert tortoises.
  • The addition of red shiner, certain species of tilapia, paddlefish, sturgeon, the Chinese mystery snail, and the false dark mussel as restricted live wildlife — none are native to Arizona and pose a significant threat to native species.

Officials said they decided to allow hedgehogs because they pose little threat of becoming an invasive species.

"Because Arizona has plenty of natural predators and a minimal amount of suitable habitat, the department has determined it is highly unlikely that a hedgehog that escapes or is intentionally released into the wild will survive," a AZGFD report said.

The reasons for instituting a total ban on primates were more involved.

Previously, rules only restricted all species of the Pongidae family of primates, which includes gorillas, chimpanzees and orangutans. According to AZGFD, “Non-human primates are known to be injurious to the public and have the potential to have or carry dangerous diseases that can have a significant impact on human health ... The conditions in which privately owned non-human primates are kept raise serious animal welfare concerns. Most people cannot provide the special care, social grouping, housing, diet, and maintenance that non-human primates require.”

A large part of the risk involved with private ownership of primates is that they can carry some of the zoonotic diseases that can be transmitted to people, such as monkey pox, simian herpes B virus, simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV, the primate form of HIV), measles, rabies, Marburg virus, cercopithecine herpes virus I, salmonella, influenza virus, filoviruses (ebola), streptococcus pneumonia, viral hepatitis, and tuberculosis.

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Most of these diseases are spread "through a bite or exposure to the saliva or nasal secretions of the non-human primate, while others spread through exposure to non-human primate feces," the department said.

"Typically, non-human primates cannot be effectively toilet-trained and sometimes engage in distasteful activities involving their feces and urine." For that reason poor hygiene and improper disposal can pose a serious problem for the surrounding community.

In addition to that threat, as a "primate grows older, stronger and more unpredictable, they may turn aggressively on anyone, including the person with whom they are the closest. As a primate reaches sexual maturity, it will often become more aggressive and may start biting or fighting people to establish dominance, including attacking their owners or visitors to the owner's home. With larger primates, these behaviors can turn dangerous or even deadly for humans; as in the case of the Connecticut woman who lost her face and hands after being mauled by a friend's 200-pound chimpanzee."

When owners realize they are unable to handle a primate they often try to rehome home them, and the animals are resold repeatedly "languishing in small pens in backyards, doomed to live in deplorable conditions."

 Because people so often underestimate what it takes to care for a primate, "the influx of unwanted animals has become overwhelming for the dozens of sanctuaries in the U.S. and most primate/exotic animal sanctuaries are full, or near capacity."

Game and Fish is hoping that by joining the 22 states that currently ban private ownership of non-human primates, Arizona will help to limit the trade in exotic animals.

The ban does not apply to Arizona zoos and research facilities. In addition, individuals who lawfully possessed primates without a license or permit from the department before the new provisions took effect can keep their animals. However, owners must report the number of primates and species they possess, the purpose of the possession, and describe how the primate is uniquely and permanently marked for identification purpose to their regional office within 30 calendar days.

Rules for the desert tortoise were amended because of an excess number of captive-reared tortoises, AZGFD said.

"As of September 2013, there were 260 unwanted captive desert tortoises available for adoption, 100 of which are under three years old."

Prior to the changes owners could breed captive desert tortoises and either gift the offspring to other members of the public or surrender them to the AZGFD. The department said that this has simply become unsustainable.

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Irene Mei (left) and Narisa (right)/Flickr

States with a full ban on private ownership of primates

  • Alaska
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Georgia
  • Hawaii
  • Illinois
  • Iowa
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Minnesota
  • Montana
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • Utah
  • Vermont
  • Washington

States with a partial ban on private ownership of primates

  • Connecticut
  • Florida
  • Tennessee