For 29 years, Jonas was denied a decent existence. This rhesus macaque was born into the captive wildlife trade here in the United States and was passed around from owner to owner. Instead of swinging from trees in the forests of Asia where rhesus monkeys are native, he was confined to a backyard with a stiff leather collar and chain. He likely never met another macaque or primate, had no opportunity to engage in a normal primate life, and had no companions other than feral cats who would occasionally wander into the yard.
This month, Jonas found a pathway out of his life as a backyard pet. The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries- which has been doing a great job tackling the problem of the exotic pet trade -- was able to convince his owner to release him to the Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch. The ranch is operated by our affiliate, The Fund for Animals, in Murchison, Texas.
Jonas's past life means his mental and emotional state is very compromised right now, says Ben Callison, director of the Black Beauty Ranch. But he has been freed of the collar he wore and is gradually relaxing and getting more comfortable. Unfortunately, for approximately 15,000 primates like Jonas, who are still kept in private homes in the United States, the misery continues. That's why, with Congress back for a short session this month, I want to remind members to pass the Captive Primate Safety Act without further delay. This bipartisan bill, introduced by Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and David Vitter, R-La., and Reps. Michael Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., and Earl Bluemenauer, D-Ore., would put an end to the exploitation of monkeys like Jonas by prohibiting the interstate commerce in primates for the exotic pet trade.
There are some very strong voices on our side, like Charla Nash, whom I interviewed not long ago when she came to Capitol Hill to press for the passage of this bill. Charla was mauled, blinded, and crippled by Travis, her boss's pet chimpanzee, and she barely survived the attack. She's now had two face transplants. In a poignant op-ed for the Shreveport Times, Charla recently wrote:
"Primates are extremely intelligent and have complex social, physical and psychological needs. "In captivity, they are abused and neglected and I saw that first-hand with Travis. He was lonely and unhappy. I have no ill will toward Travis; I just want the trade in these dangerous animals to stop so no one else will suffer like I have and so the animals won't be forced into inappropriate situations as pets."
Indeed, primates and other wildlife are ill-suited for life as pets. Most people who acquire primates lack the means to provide for these animals' behavioral and nutritional needs. The animals end up locked in a cage in the basement or a garage after they mature and start to bite and scratch or tear down the drapes and rip up the couch.
Jonas is 29 years old, and since rhesus macaques have a life expectancy of only 30 years, we don't know how much longer he has. It will take him a while to recover, and physically he shows signs of wear and tear, having lost all of his teeth -- likely due to a poor diet and lack of veterinary care. But our staff at the Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch is working tirelessly to make every day count, and very soon he will be introduced to three of our resident female rhesus macaques who were retired from biomedical research labs. Many primates kept in isolation as pets do not learn how to be around others of their kind. "We hope he is a quick study because he deserves to spend his last days knowing what it is to be a rhesus macaque, and not a backyard pet," says Ben.
I have often said that we cannot just rescue our way out of the problems that face animals. While rescue is vital for animals who can be saved, like Jonas, we also must pursue policy changes that strike at the root of the problem. To help those 15,000 or so primates still chained in a backyard or confined in a cage in someone's basement, contact your members of Congress and urge them to pass the Captive Primate Safety Act immediately.
This article first appeared on Wayne Pacelle's blog, A Humane Nation.