Year Of The Pygmy Marmoset

Another year, another exotic pet craze. In recent years film has heavily influenced the market with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles films have proceeding a craze for turtles, likewise a surge in popularity for clown fish followed the box office success of Finding Nemo. Jurassic Park was even linked to unsustainable fishing of the Chilean Sea Bass. Now social media is driving a surge in Pygmy Marmosets as exotic pets.

Novelty Trinkets Containing Live Animals Found In Chinese Market. Image from The Dodo

Novelty Trinkets Containing Live Animals Found In Chinese Market. Image from The Dodo

China are unfortunately renowned for their role in the wildlife trade. They are a big consumer of illegally trafficked wildlife parts, as well as having a huge exotic pet trade including slow lorises and of course those sealed plastic trinkets containing live turtles, terrapins and amphibians. It is no surprise then that they are driving a huge demand for the new pet trend, pygmy marmosets.

China’s wealthy elite are paying around £3,200 a go for a pet pygmy marmoset otherwise known as a thumb monkey. These tiny monkeys are that essential to have as a statement item, owners are willing to forgo all legalities in an item to own one. A quick search of social media sites such as Instagram reveals their popularity as feeds are filled with images of them sitting in peoples hands and being brushed with a toothbrush.

A quick search for thumb monkeys on social media reveals their popularity

A quick search for thumb monkeys on social media reveals their popularity

Native to South America’s rainforests, these are the world’s smallest monkeys weigh  just over 100grams. The IUCN doesn’t currently consider them threatened, however they acknowledge that they are in decline primarily due to the pet trade. Last year a study in The American Journal of Primatology revealed that they were the second most trafficked primate accounting for 13% of primates found for sale in Peruvian markets. The study concluded that levels of primate trafficking in Peru were still on a par with levels before primate exportation was banned in the 1970’s due to a lack of enforcement.

It would be easy to blame Peru for the craze in China as there is a clear failure to enforce legal bans making primate trafficking easier. However it is believed that not all of the thumb monkeys for sale in China are coming from Peru. Researchers believe there may be established breeding stock now living in China fuelling the market.

Regardless of their origin, these tiny exotic pets do not have a long life expectancy. Many animals are not even expected to survive long enough to make it into the hands of an owner; a study led by Clifford Warwick found that around 70% of traded exotic animals die at the wholesaler.

In an interview with Mongabay he highlighted the abnormal mortality rates which exotic pets face; “Stress from handling, transporting, or confinement in cages can often lead to early mortalities. Moreover, insufficient diets or inadequate thermal and humidity regimes can also result in deaths. The industry accepts high mortality rates because animals are cheap to source and the industry is dependent on mass sales and annual turnover/attrition.”

The 21st Century has brought new challenges for those seeking to end the exotic pet trade. Now more than ever we are able to share pictures of our pets (legal or not) and create this I want one mentality in others. Instagram, Facebook and other social media images cannot show the negatives to owning an exotic animal however. You do not see the damage unsustainable harvesting of the species is causing to their ecosystem, the thousands of individual animals which did not survive being transported to the store, or even those that died in the store or in the care of their new owners.

Featured Image from Mogo Zoo

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Emily Stewart
Owner of Inspirewildlife - a site dedicated to sharing positive conservation news stories from around the world. Zoo Management Graduate from University of Chester
Emily Stewart

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