Perhaps you’ve had your heart set on one of these cute and cuddly-looking pets since you saw a picture on Instagram posted by some movie star, parading his or her latest fashion accessory, a finger monkey. Maybe you even remember seeing Justin Bieber with a capuchin monkey which he was given as a birthday present while on tour in Germany in 2013. He had to leave it behind – it ended up in a local zoo – due to prohibitions on transporting exotic animals.
While finger monkeys are super awesome. Local legislation prohibiting or limiting the sale and keeping of exotic pets is one of the reasons that most people decide on a dog or a cat when choosing a household pet. It’s only people like Mike Tyson who can afford to get away with spending $4000 a month on the upkeep of his three white Bengal tigers, one of which was named Kenya – which is also a little weird since tigers are not indigenous to Africa. However…
According to the 2017-2018 National Pet Owners Survey, nearly 70% of American households – compared to 45% in the UK – own a pet of some description.
|Pet ownership in the United States: companion animals||Dogs||Cats||Birds||Horses|
|% of households owning||36,5||30,4||3,1||1,5|
|Vet expenditure per household ($ ave.)||378||191||33||373|
Source: 2012 U.S. Pet Ownership & Demographics Sourcebook
Most popular, as we would expect, is a dog or cat or two (on average, each household owns 2,1 cats). But there is no shortage of exotic pets either on the list of preferred furry (or scaly) companions. Among them are over 57 million fish, 748 thousand ferrets (seriously?), over three million rabbits, over a million each of hamsters, guinea pigs, snakes and lizards, and nearly half a million gerbils, which the dictionary describes as a “mouse-like desert rodent with long hind legs”. Who would want one of those as a pet? Unbelievably, American animal lovers keep 868 thousand “other rodents” as pets, presumably in the belief that it’s better to keep them in a cage than to have them running loose in your pantry or larder.
These figures are somewhat different in the UK, where 26% of households own a dog, only 18% a cat, and 2% a rabbit (or three). Indoor birds (budgies, canaries, parrots, and so on), guinea pigs and hamsters each account for 1% of pet ownership in the UK. Gerbils don’t even get a mention.
It’s a huge industry, with an estimated $69.4 billion being spent on pets in 2017 in the US. Yet the number of pets in the UK is declining, from a high of 71 million pets in 2013 down to 51 million in 2018. This decline in numbers in the UK is contradicted by a 25% increase in veterinary service expenditure between 2005 and 2017, from nearly 3 billion British pounds to just over 4 billion British pounds ($5,3 billion). Added to this, American pet owners spent $1.2 billion on health insurance for their pets in 2017. Clearly, it’s becoming more and more expensive to acquire and maintain a pet nowadays.
There are no statistics to show how many households have selected a finger monkey – or pygmy marmoset, the world’s smallest monkey – as their pet of choice, but you can be sure of one thing: as an exotic pet, it will not be cheap to buy or to maintain in peak fitness and health.
However, as we started out, if you have your heart set on acquiring one (or two), where would you start to look? Depending on where you live (think big city metropole versus country town), you could try any of your local pet stores. The larger and more reputable stores (think top three in North America: Petsmart, Phoenix; Petco, San Diego; Pet Valu in Markham, Ontario) will be able to advise on buying and keeping an exotic monkey. If they don’t have them in the store (and it’s not very likely that they will, given the relatively low demand for these animals), they’ll know where to get one – legally. Remember that the finger monkey is native only to the treetop canopies of the Amazon rainforests of South America, and hunting and shipping this tiny animal to your doorstep is an arduous and expensive process.
Although these little beasties are classified as of “least concern” on the CITES conservation list, they still face longer-term threats from deforestation and loss of habitat, natural predators in the wild (only 25% of infant finger monkeys make it to adulthood), as well as YOU, the person buying the monkey and thereby creating a demand for what can be a lucrative side-line for the forest dwellers of Amazonia. Retailing at $1400 to $4000, that’s a lot of money for a tribesman who relies on catfish for his daily meal.
So it goes without saying that you will almost certainly need a permit to keep this pet. About twenty states in the US have an outright ban on finger monkeys, including New York, New Jersey, Georgia, Illinois, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, California, Oregon, Washington State, and Arizona.
Your pet store will be in the best position to advise you on the legalities, and will assure you of the needed inoculations and quarantines, if necessary, to guarantee a healthy specimen.
Local and Online Breeders of Finger Monkeys
There are a number of breeders throughout the US and in other parts of the world who are licensed to breed and sell finger monkeys. Most of these breeders are well-meaning, informed and conservation-minded people who carry warnings about ensuring that you are allowed to keep such a pet in your neighbourhood. For example, Michelle from Mineola posts this message on her site: “Please know your laws regarding primate ownership and research the species and the pros and cons before you call!” Breeders can also provide a wealth of information about the care and feeding of your monkey before bringing it home. Their posted ads will provide information about their breeding practices, and provide testimonials and reviews from previously satisfied customers.
So, where can you buy a finger monkey? The internet is an obvious choice and there are plenty of websites available. One such website is Exotic Animals for Sale where breeders post their ads and offer their animals at the going prices, usually in the range of $3000-$4000, plus shipping costs – possibly another $800 depending on where you are. Local US breeders will usually refuse to sell finger monkeys outside the US so this is something to keep in mind. Buying a finger monkey in India or Europe is also different than in the US. If you have tips in this regard, please leave a comment below.
An advantage of buying online is that the breeder will often provide an all-inclusive price, including a cage, the legal documents and health certificates, and advise on diet and lifestyle care for your pet. Just be aware that, as with all other online purchases, there are fraudsters and scammers out there who pay scant attention to the ethics of dealing in an exotic species, or its wellbeing when it comes to handling and care. You are making an expensive purchase and dealing with a vulnerable creature: make sure that you are dealing with a trusted source.
Animal Rescue Centre
Animal rescue centres may from time to time come across a finger monkey which has been mistreated or abandoned. You may even be lucky enough to take on the responsibility of caring for an abandoned finger monkey for a nominal fee, besides the cost of the legal and health paperwork. Given the small number of finger monkeys owned as pets, however, and the trouble and expense which people need to go to to acquire such a pet, this option would be a rare occurrence, and not something you could depend on to happen with any regularity.
Also, when rescuing an animal from a shelter, as commendable as it is, one can never be sure of the history of the pet. This may be a concern especially with an abandoned finger monkey, which is known to become aggressive – even towards its owner – as it gets older, and especially if it has been mistreated.
Why do humans acquire and keep pets and become so attached to them, even to the point of regarding them as “part of the family”? In one survey it was found that over 90% of pet owners in the UK claim that pet ownership makes them feel “happy”, and that 88% feel that owning a pet improves their quality of life.
In return for this, pet owners have an awesome responsibility to care for their pets. Your finger monkey may be cuddly and cute, but he’s not a fashion accessory, and definitely not a creature to grow tired of and discard after six months. Just keep in mind that your pygmy marmoset can live for as long as eighteen years in your tender care. So, before you ask yourself, where can you buy a finger monkey? Think of everything involved. They can offer so much, but they do come at a cost.
Source: American Pet Products Association’s 2017-2018 National Pet Owners Survey
 Note: Michelle breeds Geoffroy’s marmosets, not quite the same as finger monkeys which are banned in New York State.
(Article updated on the 26th of June)