Dubai When Natty Dias, a UAE resident, walked into the parking lot of her building she was not expecting to see a monkey in a cage in the sweltering heat.
Dias heard from neighbours in the building that there was a monkey being kept there, but she didn’t believe it until she saw it for herself.
Fearing for the animal’s well being, Dias brought the issue to the attention of the Sharjah Municipality, who would have the authority to take the monkey.
The municipality duly confiscated the monkey and took him for treatment and recovery at the Breeding Centre for Endangered Arabian Wildlife (BCEAW) in Sharjah.
Dr Jane Budd, a veterinarian at BCEAW, said that the young monkey was sedated upon arrival at the centre, where a number of tests are currently being run on him.
She said: “At this stage, he is still in quarantine with a young female baboon that’s about the same age as him. He is still undergoing tests. While he was generally in good condition when we received him, his health will depend on the test results, which will look for diseases such as tuberculosis and hepatitis.”
Because rescued monkeys are often malnourished, estimating their age is difficult, but Dr Budd estimates that this yet-to-be named monkey is between two to three years old.
Though he seemed to be fed and well taken care of, this young monkey’s fate is still unclear and the road to recovery for rescued monkeys is not an easy one.
According to Paul Vercammen, the operations manager at BCEAW, monkeys that can be treated often require between six months to a year in order to be integrated with social groups at the centre.
He said: “When these monkeys come, they have been kept alone or with children. They don’t understand that they’re monkeys. They have absolutely no social skills. They begin thinking they’re humans. These animals need social interaction.”
Helping the monkeys recover involves months of observation.
“We integrate the new monkeys with social monkeys at the centre. The more social monkeys will introduce themselves and help the new monkey integrate, feed and clean themselves,” said Vercammen.
He said: “The majority of rescued monkeys are in really poor condition because owners don’t know how to properly treat them. They’re usually given the wrong food so they have nutrition deficiencies and skeletal and muscles deformities.”
Owners may decide to keep the monkey in a small cage or on a chain, which doesn’t give the animal the required space they need to move or exercise, explained Vercammen.
In some cases, the monkeys they receive are often in such bad shape that there is no hope of recovery, in which case euthanising them is the only option for BCEAW.
While euthanising isn’t their first choice, Vercammen said: “We euthanise because otherwise you will have a monkey suffering alone for the rest of his life, paralysed or handicapped. They can’t socially integrate with other monkeys or feed and defend themselves.”
Keeping a monkey as a house pet is a dangerously growing trend in the UAE, but animal experts warn that this practice is equally harmful to both the owner and the monkey alike.
Monkeys are not as easy to understand as the basic house cat or dog, either.
“The biggest risk is that we don’t really understand the behaviour of animals. The monkey may easily misinterpret the human,” Dr Budd said.
Flashing a friendly smile to your monkey, for example, could put you in danger. “One thing we don’t realise is a smile is not a happy emotion for monkeys. For monkeys, you show your teeth as a sign of aggression to show that you’re stronger. They will then show you their big canine teeth. Males will also try to be more dominant than the human as they grow older,” Dr Budd explained.
Miscommunication in the owner-pet relationship is exactly why monkeys retaliate and turn on their owners, which is quite common, according to the veterinarian.
An even bigger concern in pet monkeys is the number of severe diseases the animals carry, all of which can easily be transmitted to humans if the monkey hasn’t had a proper medical check-up.
“You should be worrying about tuberculosis, which can be transmitted between monkeys and humans. Hepatitis is also an issue. Salmonella, shigella, campylobacter, as well as general parasites, can also be transmitted,” said Dr Budd.
The expert also warns that children are especially at risk to the transmission of these diseases because they are more susceptible.
Monkeys are rescued in a number of ways, depending on the case. “We rescue monkeys from different sources,” Vercammen said. “They may be running on the streets or in someone’s garden. Sometimes they’re confiscated by government officials or police. People also leave them outside our office.”
In cases when a monkey or other mammal species has been confiscated by government officials, the BCEAW is notified to collect the animal.
Aside from safety and health issues, keeping a primate such as a monkey for private use is against UAE law, according to Montserrat Martin, Creative Director of Friends of Animals.
“The UAE has Federal Law N16 for Animal Welfare since 1972. Since 1990, the UAE has joined the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species agreement, which bans or regulates the trade of more than 5,000 species,” said Martin.
For people who are interested in keeping a monkey as a pet, the animal rescue group expert provides an alternative experience.
She said: “Why not admire wild animals in their natural habitat? Invest on a holiday in sanctuaries that rehabilitate and protect them. Your money will go to a fantastic cause, you get the benefits of enjoying wildlife in its natural habitat and learning all about them.”