“They tried to make me go to rehab and I said no, no no!”
“Can you take over my monkey?”
I dread those words whenever I hear them from a person unable to cope any longer with the monkey they have nurtured as a house pet. Unable to turn away from these situations, knowing the monkey is likely to be euthanased without a future, I’ve generally taken on these cases in the past to give the pet monkey a chance to be rehabilitated.
The chances for these individuals depends on their age, whether they have had access to other monkeys, their individual disposition and the manner in which their people have treated them.
The case below outlines the worst outcome I personally have experienced regarding an ex-pet. We offered Franco every chance of survival, often taking great risks to do this, hoping he would accept his own kind and find contentment with monkeys.
Although he learnt to exist with monkeys, the journey was a difficult one for him and he never got to the stage where he did not long for human company above monkeys.
Franco was nurtured like a human child for five years before being brought to the DPG when his people could no longer cope with him. Because he had been raised alone – without other monkeys for company and because he was brought to us far too late for full rehabilitation, we decided to try find a way to give him a quality life in captivity rather than euthanase him without trying.
Being humanised and showing some signs of psychological damage from the start, he regarded people in his environment as “monkey” members in his troop, drawing them into engaging with him to establish rank in the hierarchy. This suggested he had the capacity to attack any woman around when he was trying to bond with a man as is normal monkey behaviour, or attacking a man when only two men were around with one being a more recent presence. Redirected aggression is a common strategy among primates and when a monkey is humanised, all members of the family, including pets can become targets while the monkey competes for position with his/her primary person. Myself, and long term co-workers – Debbie and Steve Greensmith – all experienced Franco’s loving and friendly nature towards us that at times turned nasty. We were all bitten at some stage. Franco projected his understanding of monkey ways onto the humans in his environment.
When our monkeys were still housed at the DPG, I had a strict policy which did not allow people other than myself and the primate keeper into Franco’s personal space. While I was prepared to risk being around him, I was not prepared for others to be. This policy was taken out of my control when he was moved to Tenikwa and his last chance lay with him being sterilised. I had planned to erect a specially designed enclosure for Franco at the new DPG which would hopefully make him happier (it was to be close to humans and have other monkeys in a similar position with him) and also be designed in a way that it could be cleaned without risk. Sadly, we were never able to make this happen as he was moved to Tenikwa by the authorities. I made it clear to DPG volunteers cleaning monkey cages at Tenikwa, that the monkeys there should not be touched – this for the future welfare of the monkeys who need to turn to their own kind – rather than to people – for social bonding in order to become well adjusted in a human world where wild animals are at risk.
Unfortunately, we recently learnt that Franco’s behaviour could not be changed by castrating him as he escaped from his temporary enclosure when a male keeper opened the door to feed him. Franco then attacked a young female volunteer and was sadly euthanased. Once again, Franco was treating people in his environment as if they were monkeys in a troop, attacking the new female stranger to gain points with the male keeper he had recently been introduced to. A few days earlier almost the exact attack had been played out, except the person bitten was a male bitten on the head when offering Franco water while the better known male keeper held the door open.
We wish the volunteer who was attacked a speedy recovery and are devastated about this accident.
RIP dear Franco. For those of us at the DPG, this has been yet another important lesson to educate people about the hazards of keeping monkeys as pets.