If you’re considering getting a pet lemur, read this first.
I often hear “So cute – I want it!” and “Where can I buy a lemur?” I get it. Lemurs are adorable, there’s no disputing that. But should you really get a pet lemur?
Brief background: I am a primatologist/conservation biologist. I previously conducted research in the village of Mangily. It’s a beach destination located on the south-west coast of Madagascar. Just north of Tulear.
Sadly, most of the diurnal lemurs (awake during the day) have been hunted out of this impoverished region where it’s too hot and dry for crops to reliably grow. Even the smaller, night-active lemurs can fall victim to bushmeat hunting.
A True Story of Ring-Tailed Lemurs as Pets
I was grabbing a Three Horse Beer after a full week of fieldwork (THB is the only beer consistently available throughout Madagascar… I hope you like pilsners!). The bar owner’s son was trying to charm the “Vazaha,” – ‘foreigner’ in English.
Despite desperately wanting to blend in, my curly blonde hair, freckles, and blue eyes didn’t allow for it. Many Malagasy (the local people) were curious. However, children sometimes ran away from me screaming. They’ve been told fairytales of pale monsters with blue eyes coming to eat them when they don’t behave!
Tourists representing nearly every country in the world litter Mangily. They come from far and wide to visit its spectacular coral reef and bizarre spiny forests. When the son realized I wasn’t in his village as a tourist, but instead to research lemurs, he was delighted to tell me about his father’s pet lemurs.
My heart sank at the news of this family illegally housing a pair of ring-tailed lemurs. His father was the previous mayor of the village. Pet lemurs are a status symbol for many.
My heart continued to sink as I was guided into a small courtyard behind the club that led to motel rooms for rent. I could see a small, primarily wooden cage. I silently prayed that was not where they kept the lemurs. As I got closer, I could see two small figures pacing. They greeted us with their cat-like calls to us – hoping that we came with food.
It was a young pair, a male and a female lemur. They were apparently destined for breeding. They were kept in a box no larger than a laundry basket. It was kept together with nails and wire, threateningly oriented into the inside of the cage.
The little lemurs were thin, dirty, and obviously uncomfortable. They were desperate for food. And they became aggressive with each another just at the sight of possible nourishment.
I watched as they were fed rotting leaves that and soggy old rice. Less than an ideal diet and needless to say not a natural diet for lemurs.
Pet ring-tailed lemurs at a bar/hotel in southwestern Madagascar. Photo: Alicia Lamb
I know, I know… how could this depressing story ever pertain to you?
You’re probably thinking… “Well, that’s what pet lemurs are treated like in a developing country. But I would treat a pet lemur as a member of my family!”
While this may be true, finding and caring for a pet lemur is not as simple as purchasing a cat or dog.
8 Reasons Why Lemurs Do Not Make Good Pets
Pet Lemurs are a Real Conservation Risk
Of the 111 species of lemurs, almost all are on the verge of extinction. Furthermore, if the lemur is wild-caught, it usually involves killing the mother to grab her infant. So not only are you contributing to the demise of an endangered species, but you’re also responsible for traumatizing an infant.
Do you really want to be responsible for that?
In addition, pet lemurs do not work toward any captive breeding or reintroduction program. They are purely for companionship and internet attention.
Lemurs are expensive
Yes, they are expensive to buy from “reputable breeders”. You can expect to pay between $2,500 and $10,000. But what most people aren’t aware of is the unimaginable amount to care for them.
Captive lemurs can live for 30 + years. It costs over $200,000 to care for a lemur during its entire life. Note, that doesn’t even include the initial price. Not to mention the surprise veterinary visits. And that’s assuming you can even find a vet willing to work with a non-human primate. And if you do, needless to say, they will charge MUCH more than they would to treat a cat or dog.
Having a Pet Lemur is Illegal in Most Places
Most countries, including Madagascar, it’s illegal to have lemurs as pets. It’s also illegal to export lemurs for the global pet trade.
However, when there is a demand, it happens regardless. and many American states have made it illegal (or at least incredibly difficult) to own lemurs.
Unfortunately, there are still some states, such as Texas, Nevada, Florida, Alabama, and Nebraska that have virtually no restrictions on pet lemurs.
Lemurs are Wild Animals
They have not undergone generations of domestication – they still have their wild instincts!
They are social creatures that need to stay in groups.
Owning a single lemur is cruel and detrimental to the health of the individual. If an infant is destined for the pet trade, it was taken from its mother the day it was born, hand-reared by humans, and kept secluded from other lemurs. This usually results in abnormal behaviours, stereotypic of captive primates
Lemurs Make Smelly Pets
Both males and females scent mark with chest and anal glands. Male ring-tails even have special claws and scent glands above their hands.
Males will literally have “stink fights” during mating season (though, luckily you can’t smell everything they are wafting at each other)!
They also have loose poop – designed to disperse seeds in the wild. And you can’t house-train them. As a result, they become very messy, very quickly!
Lemurs Are Noisy
Lemurs, especially the ring-tails are quite loud and screechy. They are very vocal animals and have a different call for nearly every situation!
Lemurs Can Be Aggressive
They can be aggressive, especially as they are entering sexual maturity. This aggression can be sudden and unexpected. They can cause harm to themselves. And if they bite a human? They’re usually euthanized. Despite it being a natural behavioural response for captive lemurs
Risk of Disease
The risk of transmitting diseases between humans and non-human primate is very high. We are closely related after all! You can give your lemur a disease or virus that could be deadly to them and vice versa.
What About Pet Monkeys?
Lemurs are primates, but they are not monkeys although they are related to monkeys and apes. And they are some of our most distant relatives.
Like humans, they are intelligent and social. Primates are complex and need a lot of interaction, enrichment, and stimulation.
For similar reasons mentioned above, it is inhumane to keep monkeys or any primate species as a pet.
Increased Demand of Primates as Pets from Viral Videos on the Internet
Unfortunately, viral videos can increase the demand for a primate as a pet. Less than a decade ago, videos of slow lorises (also a primate) eating sticky rice or getting ‘tickled’ went viral. They resulted in increased capture and export for the pet trade due to increased demands for such a “cute animal”.
As a result, slow loris populations have faced serious population declines since their internet fame.
There are similar concerns regarding the viral video of a lemur ‘begging’ two adorable Malagasy boys for more back scratches. After that, internet searches for pet lemurs significantly increased.
I have purposely not shared these links to not further encourage such videos.
Do not contribute to the demise of primates by sharing these type of videos showing cute but totally unnatural behaviour from primates.
Celebrity endorsements That Further Encourage Primates as Pets
Actress Kirstie Alley owns an astounding14 ring-tailed lemurs. She claims to adore them (even though she incorrectly refers to them as monkeys). However, she does NOT recommend them as pets.
In 2013, Justin Bieber made international headlines when his capuchin monkey was confiscated by the German authorities. He was supposed to present the appropriate paperwork and retrieve the monkey. But he never did. As a result, authorities suspected that he had acquired her illegally or was in possession of her illegally. It’s illegal to keep pet monkeys in California where he lives.
The monkey still has issues today. She struggles to communicate with the other capuchins whom she lives with. 5 years later! Being a pet has caused her a LOT of unnecessary pain. Just because he wanted a cute monkey.