Laws designed to protect up to 20,000 monkeys and other primates kept as pets are not being enforced, MPs have warned.
Enthusiasts can order primates, often monkeys originating from South America, on the internet and expect delivery within two days, a Commons inquiry was told.
But legislation designed to ensure they are given the food and living conditions they need is rarely enforced, and many pet owners don’t even know it exists.
The warning was issued by the Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, which includes Tyneside MPs Mary Glindon and Emma Lewell-Buck.
But the MPs rejected an immediate ban on keeping primates as pets, despite hearing evidence from groups such as the RSPCA and the Primate Society of Great Britain who argued that it is simply impossible to meet “the complex social, behavioural, environmental and dietary needs” of primates if they are kept in an ordinary home.
There are no official numbers for the number of primates kept as pets. Charity Care for the Wild International told the inquiry it believed there were 15,000 to 20,000 animals in domestic homes, but other charities such as the RSPCA said there may be around 7,500.
Popular pets include the marmoset, a monkey native to South America, and tamarins and capuchins, which are native to central and south America.
Charity OneKind, an animal protection charity, told the inquiry that primates can be ordered from internet classified advertising sites and can potentially be delivered within a day or two to distant locations without any monitoring, regulation or specific welfare provision.
There are already laws designed to ensure animals are looked after properly, including the Animal Welfare Act which says animals must be placed in suitable housing, be given a suitable diet and be allowed to exhibit normal behaviour patterns, as well as the Dangerous Wild Animals Act.
The maximum penalty for causing unnecessary suffering to an animal is six months imprisonment or a fine of £20,000 or both. The maximum penalty for failing to provide for the welfare needs of an animal is six months imprisonment or a fine of £5,000 or both.
However, while the laws don’t need to be changed, they are rarely enforced and many pet owners don’t even know they exist, the inquiry warned.
They said: “Non-compliance with the regulatory framework is widespread. Low awareness of the applicable rules and guidance is one reason for this. Another is the limited resources and expertise held by local authorities who have primary responsibility for enforcing the framework.
“The Government should launch a public education campaign to raise awareness of the rules and guidance. It should also advise local authorities to employ experts from the zoo-licensing inspectors list or those with diplomas in zoo and wildlife medicine for its Dangerous Wild Animals Act inspections.
“If the changes we have suggested prove insufficient to protect adequately the welfare of privately kept primates, and if the evidence proves compelling, a ban on the trade and keeping of pet primates remains a possible option.”
Committee chair Anne McIntosh said: “We take the welfare of primates in captivity very seriously, so we were surprised to find that so little is known about the types and numbers of primates being kept or traded by private individuals in the UK and about the manner in which they are being kept.”