Owning primates, including lemurs, as pets causes them physical, psychological, and emotional harm. Infant primates in the pet trade are taken from their mothers when they are only hours or days old. Most breeders think that hand-rearing infants will make them less aggressive toward humans and thus better pets. However, hand-reared animals are typically more dangerous than mother-reared animals because they lose their natural, healthy fear of humans. The few lemurs at EPF’s Prosimian Sanctuary that were raised by their mothers, rather than humans, are not coincidentally the least human-aggressive residents. Mothers and their infants suffer emotional trauma and depression from the forced separation. Infants taken from their mothers develop poor social skills, which makes them difficult or impossible to integrate into a natural social group. The Prosimian Sanctuary staff have extensive training in primate behavioral rehabilitation, and it often takes weeks and even months to introduce a new lemur into a social group.
Primate housing, nutritional, behavioral, and psychological needs require extensive expertise and can be very expensive. Few people have the knowledge or resources to properly care for them. Failure to provide an appropriate and safe environment compromises the animal’s welfare. Pet lemurs are often housed in small cages due to aggression, preventing them from adequately engaging in natural behaviors. Human homes pose significant threats to lemur safety through contact with household hazards such as stoves, light bulbs, candles, poisonous chemicals, and other pets. emurs and other primates require specialized vet care. It can be difficult or impossible to find a veterinarian who is qualified, experienced, and willing to treat primates. Primates naturally live in complex social groups and need conspecific contact for psychological health. Human contact cannot adequately replace the bonds they naturally form with their own kind. Social and sexual isolation often leads to abnormal behaviors including repetitive, compulsive behaviors (stereotypies) and self-mutilation.
Frustrated owners often neglect, abuse, or dispose of their pet primates improperly. They attempt to change the nature of the animal rather than the nature of the care provided. Such tactics include confinement in small barren enclosures, chaining, shocking, beating "into submission," or even painful mutilations, such as tooth and nail removal. Some are euthanized. The significant behavioral deficits of pet lemurs make them difficult to integrate into normal lemur social groups if later surrendered to a professional care facility. Prosimians from private possession often require specialized care to address behavioral and social skill deficits, malnutrition, poor health, and/or psychological damage. Most zoos cannot take them due to lack of space for behaviorally incompetent animals that cannot be easily integrated into normal social groups. Few animals accept primates and the ones that do often have extensive waiting lists for primates needing placement. EPF’s Prosimian Sanctuary is the only sanctuary in the United States dedicated to lemurs and other prosimians.
Raffi, a male ring-tailed lemur housed at EPF's Prosimian Sanctuary, suffered permanent injuries and reduced mobility after being attacked by a pet dog as an infant. Photo taken by EPF staff member Jessie Hersh.