© 2019 The Authors. American Journal of Primatology published by Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
Am J Primatol. 2019;e23079. wileyonlinelibrary.com/journal/ajp
Received: 5 June 2019
Revised: 1 December 2019
Accepted: 4 December 2019
Reducing the primate pet trade: Actions for primatologists
Marilyn A. Norconk
Ana Maria Santillán
Cheryl D. Knott
Stephen R. Ross
Department of Anthropology, Kent State
University, Kent, Ohio
Professional Development for Good, Chicago,
Pan African Sanctuary Alliance (PASA),
Departamento de Etología, Instituto Nacional
de Psiquiatría Ramón de la Fuente Muñiz,
Mexico City, Mexico
Centro Mexicano de Rehabilitación de
Primates A.C., Vera Cruz, Mexico
Department of Anthropology, Durham
University, Durham, UK
Barbary Macaque Awareness &
Departments of Anthropology and Biology,
Boston University, Boston, Massachusetts
Gunung Palung Orangutan Conservation
Program, West Kalimantan, Indonesia
Lester E. Fisher Center for the Study and
Conservation of Apes, Lincoln Park Zoo,
Neotropical Primate Conservation,
SOS Wildlife, Diani Beach, Kenya
Marilyn A. Norconk, Department of
Anthropology, Kent State University,
226 Lowry Hall, Kent, OH 44242.
This commentary emerged from a panel presentation at the International
Primatological Society Congress in Nairobi, Kenya, 2018. The goal was to provide
regional updates on the status of primate removal from habitat countries, especially
for the pet trade, and develop guidelines that could help primatologists address this
critical problem. The trade in live primates includes those used as pets, in
entertainment, and as subjects of biomedical experimentation, but here we focus
on those primates destined for the pet trade. Such transactions are a hugely lucrative
business, impacting hundreds of thousands of individuals annually and affecting the
survival of wild populations. Being intimately familiar with primate social behavior,
life history and biology, primatologists, whether they work with captive or wild
primates, are in a unique position to understand the nature of the trade and attempt
to counter its effects. In addition to updating the status of the primate pet trade, we
provide recommendations that may help primatologists formulate a plan to deal,
locally and regionally, with illegal trafficking in live primates. General guidelines
include increasing awareness of local customs, policies and laws; developing
collaborative research opportunities for local people; engaging in training/informa-
tional opportunities; and instructing on how to take action when encountering
collaborative research, commercialization of primates, illegal trafficking in live animals, social
The live primate trade consists of animals that are captured and
removed from their native habitat and enter a local, national or
international market for any reason (pets, entertainment, biomedical
and pharmaceutical industries). This commentary focuses on the
primate pet trade. It originated with a panel organized by S. Atsalis,
M. Norconk and G. Tully for the 27th Congress (2018) of the
International Primatological Society in Nairobi, Kenya. Panelists
included concerned primatologists with personal or research
experience on the pet trade. We seek to help primatologists, in
particular those conducting field research, to develop plans to
counteract the illegal trade in wild primates by reviewing relevant
background information, and providing suggestions for how field and
This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium,
provided the original work is properly cited.
captive primate researchers can become more involved in reducing
the entry of primates into the pet trade stream.
BACKGROUND: THE LIVE PRIMATE TRADE
The documented trade in live primates is lucrative and complex involving
the capture and movement of hundreds of thousands of individuals per
year for the biomedical, entertainment industry, and personal pet trade
the Convention on International Trade on Endangered Species of Wild
Flora and Fauna (CITES), Nijman et al. (2011) reported that the number
of primates in trade increased steadily from 1995 to 2008. In 2015,
primate trade volume was estimated to be $138M, an increase from
$98M in 2012 (Observatory of Economic Complexity (OEC), https://atlas.
media.mit.edu). Since 2008, China, Cambodia, and Vietnam have been the
three largest exporters of live primates (https://atlas.media.mit.edu/en/
profile/hs07/010611/#Exporters; UN Comtrade Database: https://
comtrade.un.org/). These sites do not provide specific information on
the destination of the primates or their source, although Nijman et al.
(2011) found that the number of captive‐bred primates exported from
CITES signatories from 1995 to 2009 exceeded the number of wild‐
caught primates. They also suggested that the total number of wild‐
caught primates were under‐reported for some years. Bush, Baker, and
MacDonald (2014) found that all reports of CITES‐listed animals
exported in the exotic pet trade were reported as “captive bred”on
As an example of the lucrative nature of documented (presumed
legal) trade in live primates, exports from China in 2017 were valued
at $48.1M, followed by Vietnam at $12M, and Cambodia at $11.3M.
In the same year, 71% of China’s exported primates were imported
into the United States and 43% of Vietnam’s and 55% of Cambodia’s
exports, respectively, were imported into Japan. The United States
has remained the largest importer of live primates since 2009. The
second‐largest importer during that period shifted from France to
Qatar in 2015 and 2016.
The volume of the undocumented (illegal) trade is estimated to be
even higher than the documented trade, although no realistic estimate of
the actual number of animals exists (Estrada et al., 2018; Reuter &
Schaefer, 2017; Rosen & Smith, 2010; Stiles, Redmond, Cress, Nellemann,
& Formo, 2013). The accuracy gap is due to accountability issues,
inadequate enforcement of existing regulations, inaccurate or incomplete
population assessments, and secrecy. Some countries (e.g., Indonesia—
Shepard, 2010; Suriname—Ouboter, 2001; Vietnam and China—Bush
et al., 2014; Yiming & Dianmo, 1998) continue to export Appendix 1
species (those considered most endangered by CITES) despite having
indicated acceptance of the import/export terms in CITES. But, poor
enforcement of existing regulations is a ubiquitous problem (Bergin,
Atoussi, & Waters, 2018; Freund, Rahman, & Knott, 2016; Maldonado,
Nijman, & Bearder, 2009; Nijman, 2017; Shanee, 2012, 2017). CITES has
little enforcement capability and must rely on law enforcement agencies
and reporting accuracy in primate range countries (Márquez‐Arias,
Santillán‐Doherty, & Arenas‐Rosas, 2017; Wyler & Sheikh, 2008). And, it
may be difficult to verify assessments of population growth or decline,
criteria that are routinely used to designate export quotas (Challender,
Harrop, & MacMillan, 2015; Meijaard, Wich, Ancrenaz, & Marshall, 2012;
Plumptre, Sterling, & Buckland, 2013). Finally, efforts to limit the transfer
of primates across international boundaries may be overwhelmed by
demand for some species for pets or for biomedical research such as
Nycticebus spp. (lorises), Saimiri spp. (squirrel monkeys), Cebuella pygmaea
(pygmy marmosets), Aotus spp. (night monkeys) and several species of
lemurs (e.g., Fuller, Eggen, Wirdateti, & Nekaris, 2018; Maldonado, 2018;
Musing, Suzuki, & Nekaris, 2015; Nijman, Spaan, Rode‐Margono, &
Nekaris, 2017; Simoes & Hidalgo, 2011; Svensson et al., 2016).
Nevertheless, efforts are being made on many levels to reduce the
entry of individuals into the live primate trade stream. These efforts
include education of local people and others who reside in the same
habitats as primates (Freund et al., 2019); community development
projects that provide alternative livelihoods to hunting and wildlife
trafficking (Challender et al., 2015; Horwich et al., 2010); creation of new
protected areas (PAs) in habitats of high biodiversity and strengthening
protection of existing PAs (Le Saout et al., 2013); funding for forest
rangers whose presence and efforts deter poachers; and both stronger
legislation and consistent enforcement of existing legislation (Meijaard
et al., 2012; Phelps, Biggs, & Webb, 2016). Additionally, we recognize
increasing corporate responsiveness to the commercial transportation of
live primates in response to public pressure. For example, several airlines
now refuse to transport primates internationally (Grimm, 2018).
SUPPLY AND DEMAND FOR PET
Primates can be attractive as pets because they are viewed as cute
and ‘funny’and often behave in familiar ways that are similar to our
own behavior (Estrada et al., 2017; Marshall & Wich, 2016a; Phillips
et al., 2014). Research has demonstrated that their attractiveness is
influenced by how they are portrayed in popular media such as
television, movies and commercial advertisements (Aldrich, 2018;
Ross, Vreeman, & Lonsdorf, 2011). While in some countries pet
primates have been purposefully bred in captive colonies, they may
also enter the pet trade from the wild both intentionally, via wildlife
traffickers (Freund et al., 2016; Nijman, 2017; Phelps et al., 2016;
Shanee, 2012; Stiles, 2016; Stiles et al., 2013; van Uhm, 2016;
Figures 1 and 2) and incidentally, when local hunters kill females with
infants that are then kept as pets or sold (Beck, 2010; Stiles et al.,
2013). Furthermore, there is concern that wildlife crime—the 4th
largest type of international crime—may put animals that inhabit PAs
at risk, particularly great apes (Dudley, Stolton, & Elliott, 2012). As
PAs increasingly serve as “safe harbors”for relatively high densities
of animals, they may become hotspots for hunters and traffickers
who often operate with impunity (Nijman, 2017).
There is also concern that the traditional opportunistic capture of
animals for the pet trade (as in this case of orangutan infants) has shifted
to more organized trafficking activities Freund et al. (2016). For example,
in Kalimantan and Sumatra, Indonesia, there are two known ape
NORCONK ET AL.
traffickers with holding grounds based in the Jakarta area, and two
others in central and east Java, that acquire primates from local collectors
and sell them on social media or to contacts they have in zoos and safari
parks (D. Stiles, personal communication, November 25, 2019). In Mexico,
organized wildlife crime groups take advantage of the same trafficking
routes used in the drug trade (Alvarado‐Martínez, 2012). A similar
problem is gaining traction in Peru (Shanee, 2012) where wildlife
trafficking is compounded by poor enforcement of national laws and
international conventions (Shanee, Mendoza, & Shanee, 2017).
Shanee (2012) noted that local politicians in Peru were influential
in contributing to or reducing the local pet trade. In Amazonas state,
lax interpretation of wildlife laws failed to deter politicians and their
families from assembling their own menageries of exotic animals
while in neighboring San Martin state, stricter interpretation and
application of the same law resulted in the rescue of many animals
from commercial establishments (S. Shanee, in preparation). In both
cases, the decisions made by local leaders affected the incidence of
local wildlife crime.
As a species, barbary macaques have been greatly affected by both
internal and external illegal trade in Morocco. van Uhm (2016) estimated
that ~200 macaques were smuggled into the European Union annually.
Despite the species being reclassified on CITES Appendix I in 2016, trade
does not appear to have diminished and the authorities have failed to
consistently enforce the law against the open sale and use of Barbary
macaques as a photo prop for tourists. Jmaa El Fnaa square in Marrakech
is a magnet for both local and international tourists. Given special
permission by the authorities, solicitors (or touts) exploit macaques as
photo props (Figure 3). The square is also where both national and
international visitors initiate the purchase of wild‐caught infant macaques
despite this activity being illegal (Bergin et al., 2018).
On the demand side, many cultures have historically maintained
primates as pets for social‐status seeking (Márquez‐Arias et al., 2017;
Shanee, 2012) and medicinal and spiritual reasons (e.g., Nekaris,
et al., 2018; Waters, Bell, & Setchell, 2018). Moreover, international
demand is driven by greater access to wealth, advertising on the internet
(Bergin et al., 2018) and commercialization in films and videos (Aldrich,
2018; Nekaris, Campbell, Coggins, Rode, & Nijman, 2013). The ease of
financial exchange and speed of air transportation heavily impact the
international trade of some species (e.g., pygmy marmosets, Mongabay
b‐monkey‐trend/ and slow lorises, Nekaris et al., 2013).
INTERVENTIONS BY PRIMATOLOGISTS
TO REDUCE THE PET TRADE—WHAT CAN
Many primatologists are in a unique position to increase awareness of
and/or reduce the national and international trade in wild primates. Field
primatologists often develop close relationships with local people and are
aware of primate habitat requirements, population demography, and
social behavior. Most field primatologists, however, are not trained to
take action when confronted with primate trafficking. Given this gap in
knowledge and limited formal direction from our professional
FIGURE 1 Spider monkey, Ateles chamek, for sale in Bellavista
market, Pucallpa, Peru. Photo credit: Noga Shanee (Neotropical
FIGURE 2 A juvenile female orangutan chained and kept illegally
as a pet in West Kalimantan, Indonesia. Photo: © Gunung Palung
Orangutan Conservation Program with an example of an embedded
FIGURE 3 Barbary macaque used as a photo prop at a market in
Marrakech, Morocco. Photo: © Barbary Macaque Awareness and
NORCONK ET AL.
associations (International Primatological Society policy statement,
“Trade in Primates Captured in the Wild”), we provide a summary below
of recommendations generated as a result of the panel presentations at
the IPS 2018 Congress in Nairobi, Kenya. General guidelines for longer‐
term preparation are followed by suggestions for immediate action when
confronted with illegal primate pet trade situations during the course of
travelling or conducting research. All primatologists, whether they do
field research or not, should be aware that their study subjects are at risk
General guidelines/Long‐term planning
4.1.1 |Increase your knowledge of local customs,
history and laws as they pertain to wildlife trafficking
Among the most useful actions researchers can take is to identify,
and be prepared to contact, specialized local enforcement agencies,
rescue centers and Nongovernmental Organizations (NGOs) working
in areas where wildlife trafficking occurs. Primatologists should make
themselves aware of these resources even before witnessing any
activity so as to be prepared to act quickly when necessary. In many
cases local authorities may be apathetic or reluctant to act because
of a lack of funding or expertise, that is, general reluctance to
confiscate illegally held trafficked animals. In such cases, regular
follow‐up calls may encourage authorities to act or one may need to
contact more than one enforcement entity.
Similarly, highlighting positive actions of local authorities in local
media or online may reinforce their decisions. It is common for local
authorities to feel that cases involving just one animal kept as a pet are
not serious crimes. The incident may be ignored, or, if a confiscation is
made, no punishment may result. Both in‐country and international
primatologists should proceed with caution in such cases to avoid being
perceived as interfering and possibly making future collaboration with
local agencies challenging. Contacting NGOs with social media
presence can encourage the authorities to act to avoid public criticism
nationally (Waters, personal observation). Primatologists may also be
able to coordinate capacity‐building training sessions for local
authorities by working with knowledgeable local groups.
Primatologists should also be aware of emerging changes in the
local social and business environments, particularly the influx of new
commercial enterprises (e.g., oil palm plantations, logging, land
trafficking, ranching, and mining) that could impact habitat loss and
lead to an increase in primate trafficking (e.g., Freund et al., 2016;
Shanee & Shanee, 2016).
4.1.2 |Develop personal relationships with local
Developing personal relationships (from local residents, to field
assistants and local leaders) may be the most promising approach to
deterring the illegal pet trade at its source. Primatologists should
strive to create social networks that include community members
and local authorities to promote truthful information about local
primates and other animals targeted for the illegal pet trade and their
importance in shared ecosystems with humans.
Deep, meaningful engagement and trust‐building between local
people and primatologists in Morocco led to conservationists and
forest users, such as shepherds, sharing information about Barbary
macaques. The conservationists used this opportunity to link the
forest users and their home with the Barbary macaque’s unique
status as the only North African primate. These strategies made
some men view the animals differently and develop a sense of pride
in the species, protecting it from poachers and other threats (Waters
et al., 2018).
4.1.3 |Increase the scientific capacity of local
Increasing scientific capacity through workshops for local people, as
well as structured training for students that intend to become
professionals, are perhaps the most effective ways to affect primate
conservation (Meijaard et al., 2012). In many countries, foreign
researchers are required to support local students. Primatologists
working outside of their home countries should embrace these
opportunities to help train the next generation of in‐country
scientists whose voices could have a much greater impact on policies
within their country.
Moreover, community workshops have been shown to lead to
collaborative approaches that reduce hunting and capture of
endangered animals (Horwich et al., 2010; Shanee, 2012; Shanee &
Shanee, 2015). Primatologists who are also educators should
volunteer to give compelling, well‐informed lectures about their
research and local conservation to targeted audiences: residents,
companies, governmental representatives and policy makers, schools
and universities, children and adults. A survey done in Mexico
showed that even in range countries, especially in big cities, residents
are unaware of the importance and even the presence of primates
in the country (Márquez‐Arias, Arenas‐Rosas, & Santillán‐
It is also essential for primatologists to help park administrators
recognize the importance of integrating local people into the
protection and maintenance of protected areas. In our experience,
there are many examples where communities have lived next to
parks for many years but have never visited them. Designing
programs that introduce school children to parks are an effective
way to change future attitudes (Freund et al., 2019), but we should
also recognize the importance of long‐term investment in repeated
education programs (workshops, trail walks, lectures, and so on) for
Collectively, we can take advantage of a global increase in nature
tourism by engaging with local NGOs or governmental organizations
to provide instructional materials for hotels, tourist sites, and
national parks. Shanee (2012) found that live primates and other
NORCONK ET AL.
wildlife were used as “traditional jungle décor”in tourist sites in the
Peruvian Amazon (Figure 4). But, tourist hotspots (e.g., hotels,
Figure 5) may also be exemplary locations for primatologists to
educate both local tour operators and tourists themselves by
becoming active participants and providing help with educational
programs and signage.
4.1.4 |Design collaborative research
Meijaard et al. (2012) encouraged the development of collaborative
projects that integrate experts in related fields and provide large‐
scale systematic information on primate population size, density and
habitat requirements. Collaborative research may facilitate commu-
nity involvement and provide insight into cultural perspectives on the
pet trade (Nekaris et al., 2010; Reuter & Schaefer, 2017; Reuter et al.,
2018; Waters et al., 2018). If the possession of exotic pets is
embedded in traditional cultural attitudes, then understanding the
source of the tradition may be useful in providing explanations to
deter it. It will also be beneficial to think outside the traditional
boundaries of primate research and become familiar with local law,
economics, social and cultural traditions, forestry and other relevant
fields in which people working on similar issues from different
perspectives can provide more comprehensive solutions (Blair, Le, &
Sterling, 2017; Marshall & Wich, 2016b; Meijaard et al., 2012;
Waters & El‐Harrad, 2013).
Primatologists should strengthen connections with local
people and provide specific information on conservation planning
and practical implementation of antipoaching efforts in both
regional reports and local publications. We also encourage
primatologists to disseminate information in scientific and
popular journals or newspapers, particularly in local languages,
to publicize the plight of animals captured for the pet trade (e.g.,
Fuller et al., 2018).
4.1.5 |Collaborate with professional organizations
The International Primatological Society webpage (internationalpri-
matologicalsociety.org) lists 24 affiliated regional and country‐based
primate societies. Our focus in this commentary is on what we, as
primatologists, can do to reduce the number of primates entering the
pet trade. The number of wild‐caught animals in the pet trade is
difficult to calculate (Bush et al., 2014; Shanee et al., 2017), but it is
increasing by most estimates (e.g., Nijman et al., 2011). Primates tend
to enter the pet‐trade stream by being taken from wild populations.
Many of the IPS affiliates are grass‐roots organizations that are
centrally positioned to provide cultural‐and language‐specific
information to local governance officials, community leaders, wildlife
police, and local people, and also may be able to help document
the local primate pet trade. Organizations originating in non‐habitat
countries (e.g., American Society of Primatologists, Primate Society of
Great Britain, European Federation for Primatology, and the
International Primatological Society) should provide financial and
collegial support for regional organizations, and contribute to
collaborative research and conservation initiatives as part of their
FIGURE 4 Tamarin offered for use as a photo prop, Sauce, Peru.
Photo credit: Sam Shanee (Neotropical Primate Conservation)
FIGURE 5 Fifi, a 10‐year‐old western chimpanzee, has spent
almost her entire life in a small cage in the parking lot of a hotel in
Guinea‐Bissau, West Africa. Photo credit: Marie Laforge
NORCONK ET AL.
4.1.6 |Set social media guidelines
Social media platforms (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube), as well
as popular films that show primates as pets or wearing human
clothes, have enhanced the attraction and facilitated the acquisition
of wild animals as pets. Nijman and Nekaris (2017) found that the
number of species of owls, both common and rare, increased in local
markets in Indonesia following the release of Harry Potter films. The
demand for otters as pets increased with the number of listings on
social media in Thailand (Siriwat & Nijman, 2018). A survey of social
media posts originating in Africa that contributed to the (illegal)
international trade of gray parrots cited social media as a variable
in the persistent high level of trade (Martin, Senni, & D’Cruze, 2018).
We also want to emphasize that large‐scale surveys have demon-
strated that photographs that show even minimal human contact (i.e.,
humans touching nonhuman primates or simply sharing space with
them) may increase the likelihood that primates will be considered to
be suitable pets (Leighty et al., 2015; Ross et al., 2011).
Ironically, images of humans caring for infant primates can have
negative consequences for wild populations (e.g., Musing et al., 2015;
Nekaris et al., 2013; Stiles et al., 2013). Images of care given to primates
in rehabilitation centers may feed the view that “baby primates make
cute pets”and exacerbate the pet trade problem (Figure 6).
If photos of humans with primates must be shared, then an
appropriate caption explaining the context should be included. Still, the
danger is that the contextual information will not be shared with the
photo. We recommend that the information be embedded in the photo
itself similar to an infographic or informative watermark (see Figure 2).
Such amendments will enable photos to be traced more easily and avoid
sharing them out of context. People and NGOs working closely with
primates should err on the side of caution and exclude photos of people
and primates together from their social media pages and websites.
Given its uniquely broad reach, social media provides tools to
educate and inform, but primates are increasingly being sold on
Facebook and Instagram contrary to their Terms of Service. Unfortu-
nately, these online platforms have refused to cooperate with law
enforcement citing privacy concerns (Stiles, 2019). Still, we can engage in
judicious and intentional use of electronic media that includes accurate
information such as the common name of the species, general photo
location, behavior, and conservation status (Nekaris et al., 2013;
Waters & El‐Harrad, 2013) while avoiding specific information regarding
location (e.g., excluding GPS coordinates from smart phone photos).
We are aware that primates are valuable commodities. Interrupting
sales transactions and movements, or confronting sellers on streets or
in markets may come with personal risks. Therefore, we contributed to
this commentary with the belief that all field primatologists should
become more aware of cultural, economic, commercial, legal, and
educational impacts on the live primate trade in communities where
we live and work, and to encourage primatologists to consider how
they could become a counterforce to the primate pet trade.
4.2.1 |Do not purchase the animal
Buying wildlife from dealers or traffickers, or otherwise providing
them with compensation, will give them resources to acquire more
wild animals, exacerbating the trade. We should understand that
purchasing animals will reinforce the behavior.
4.2.2 |Do not act alone
Contact local people you trust for advice about relevant wildlife
protection authorities. Primatologists who find evidence of wildlife
trafficking are encouraged to communicate relevant information
about the location, species, and context of the sale with local law
enforcement agencies or NGOs involved in wildlife rescue. Most
primate range countries offer an anonymous reporting service
through phone call or internet. If an organization or agency is
positioned to take action, they are likely to have more experience
with safely managing interactions with traffickers and will be
more familiar with the laws of the country. Ideally, the traffickers
will be arrested and/or fined in addition to the animals being
4.2.3 |Do follow up
Calling, writing to or visiting local wildlife authorities increases
opportunities to engage with local enforcement agencies and helps
reinforce your interest in and support of their services.
FIGURE 6 Infant gibbon offered for sale on Instagram in Indonesia
NORCONK ET AL.
4.2.4 |Do support good actions
Positive publicity for local wildlife authorities that may have
insufficient resources for monitoring and tracking illegal trade could
make a difference the next time they are called upon to take action.
Such action may include communication via social media sites or
writing editorials in local newspapers or magazines calling attention
to the danger of trafficking to primate well being.
THERE MAY BE UNINTENDED
We cannot offer a prescription for success, only guidelines for
intentional action to deter the primate pet trade. It is critical that
primatologists are involved at the ground level; that they are aware,
involved, and support strategies and policies to reduce the illegal
trafficking of nonhuman primates. We believe that our long‐term
presence at field sites, appreciation for cultural patterns, and interest
in gathering and exchanging information can provide local incentives
to avoid the illegal capture of wild primates. Our input at this stage is
critical. Post capture, we may have less control. For example, the
Moroccan NGO, Barbary Macaque Awareness & Conservation
(BMAC), found that confiscating photo‐prop macaques and fining
their owners did not prevent the touts from re‐offending. The fines
were rarely paid and the touts continued their trade without serious
penalty—although they did lose their capital asset—the macaque.
Thus, enforcing Moroccan wildlife protection laws by confiscating
Barbary macaques resulted in the negative and unforeseen effect of
increasing the demand for wild‐caught infant macaques for the
photo‐prop trade. BMAC’s experience demonstrates the difficulties
that conservationists may experience whilst trying to enforce laws in
cultures where the legal infrastructure is procedurally slow.
What is lacking in many cases is support for existing—and
establishing new—rescue centers. The paucity of safe locations to
place confiscated animals is an unfortunate obstacle when trying to
motivate authorities to act. Knowing that an animal will probably be
euthanized is disheartening to authorities and the public, disincenti-
vizing a willingness to seize pet primates. Most primatologists are not
in a position to set up a rescue center, but they can certainly find
ways to provide much‐needed support for existing ones.
Primatologists have the tools and are in a position to effect change in the
pet trade locally and internationally. We are educators and researchers;
we interact closely with local people; we know the behavior, ecology, and
life history strategies of the primates we study; and we often have long‐
term investments in the countries in which we work or live. Many of us
have seen primates for sale on street corners and markets or kept as
pets in back‐yard cages in habitat countries or in pet stores and circuses
in North America. Doing our homework to understand the attitudes of
local people and the cultural underpinnings of how primates enter and
move through the pet trade are critical to developing solutions to deter
it. We encourage all primatologists to generate a personal plan of action
tailored to local circumstances, avoid circulating pictures of themselves
with primates, and engage with local organizations or individuals who
can effectively intervene to deter the primate pet trade.
We are grateful to Karen Bales, AJP Editor‐in‐chief, Tony Di Fiore,
Associate Editor of AJP, and three anonymous reviewers for their
helpful suggestions on this commentary. Cheryl Knott thanks
Association of Zoos and Aquariums; Arcus Foundation; Conservation,
Food and Health Foundation; Orangutan Conservancy; Sea World‐
Busch Gardens Conservation Fund, Tides Foundation, and the
Woodland Park Zoo who have funded Gunung Palung Orangutan
Conservation Program's work on combatting the Illegal pet trade.
We would also like to recognize the contributors to the IPS/ASP
2016 panel co‐organized by M. Norconk and S. Atsalis, “The global
primate pet trade: How can primatologists working in habitat
countries reduce the threat?”and thank them for their participation:
A. M. Santillán‐Doherty, R. Arenas‐Rosas, K. Reuter, M. Schaefer, S.
Waters, A. El Harrad, J. Setchell, A. Nekaris, V. Nijman, D. Spaan, and
We clarify the participation in this piece by noting that S. Atsalis,
C. Knott, M. Norconk, S. Ross, A. M. Santillán‐Doherty, G. Tully, and
S. Waters attended and participated in the panel at IPS‐Nairobi, 2018.
D. Stiles and S. Shanee agreed to participate, but were unable to attend
the meeting. They contributed data and comments that were included in
the panel and subsequently contributed to writing the commentary.
The authors declare that their research adhered to the joint
International Primatological Society and American Society of
Primatologists Code of Best Practices for Field Primatology, 2014.
Marilyn A. Norconk http://orcid.org/0000-0002-7995-8646
Stephen R. Ross http://orcid.org/0000-0002-1819-4136
Sam Shanee http://orcid.org/0000-0001-5573-6208
Aldrich, C. B. (2018). The use of primate “actors”in feature films 1990–2013.
NORCONK ET AL.
Alvarado‐Martínez, I. (2012). Delincuencia organizada ambiental en
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How to cite this article: Norconk MA, Atsalis S, Tully G, et al.
Reducing the primate pet trade: Actions for primatologists.
Am J Primatol. 2019;e23079.
NORCONK ET AL.