"Black and white capuchin: male 7 yrs old, hand raised, but needs work, $4,500" reads the ad from a US website. The internet is full of adverts for monkeys for sale. Some of them are clearly scams. Others, like this one, hide a tale of tragedy for one individual - and suggest that monkeys are not such good pets after all.
Welcome to the week of the capuchin monkey, genus cebus. Although there are over 250 species of monkey, we can probably all picture the capuchin: they're the "organ grinder" monkeys, dressed up and trained to hold out a collection cup. Marcel, in the worst ever Friends storyline, was a capuchin. There are capuchins in the "Night at the Museum" films as well and these apparently provoked a lot of enquiries about where to get them to buy as pets. It's not always an advantage to be cute and clever.
Capuchins originate from Central and South America, from Honduras to Paraguay, and were named by the first European explorers who saw the tufts of fur on the monkeys' heads and were reminded of the brown hoods of Capuchin friars (the same ones who would later give the name to a popular frothy coffee).
Traders take the babies from the wild, which can involve killing the whole family group. Once traded, capuchins are used in entertainment, as surrogate children, status symbols, experimented on in laboratories and also now, it seems, bred for use as assistance animals to disabled people. I haven't been able to gauge how well that's working because as one of the characters in my story says "All wild animals can bite". The internet carries a lot of stories about how previously sweet pet monkeys unexpectedly do just that, and do rather a lot of damage.
Not only that, but as one director at as US zoo said, "If you try to keep them as pets you're creating a mentally disturbed animal in 99.9 percent of the cases".
Nobody really knows how many primates are being kept as pets in the UK - records aren't kept. Experts believe 3,000 to 5,000; some estimates are as high as 11,000. Either way, it's a lot of mentally disturbed animals.
Tomorrow some capuchin facts and figures and more about the inspiration for my story.