The Duke Lemur Center is absolutely against all trade in pet primates, and against the holding of any prosimian (lemur, loris, bushbaby, potto) as a pet.
Devastating effects of the pet trade
The pet trade has a serious, negative impact on wild populations, through the smuggling and import of wild primates that ultimately end up in the pet trade.
Even though most pet lemurs that are sold in the U.S. are bred in the U.S., this does not make the issue any less serious. An infant lemur destined to become a pet is taken away from its mother on the day of its birth and reared in isolation from other lemurs. As a result, its social behavior is highly abnormal and the pet lemur, like nearly all pet primates, is liable to sudden and unpredictable episodes of aggressive behavior that can cause injury to itself and its keepers. Lemurs are wild animals and they retain their wild instincts. They are not domesticated and they make highly inappropriate pets.
In addition, most people don’t realize how expensive lemurs are to care for properly. It costs the Duke Lemur Center $8,400 per year to properly care for ONE animal, and that’s a full-time job – just ask our primate technicians and veterinarians! A ring-tailed lemur can live for 30 years, and a full-time commitment to such a long-lived animal 365 days per year is a life-altering responsibility that can total around $222,000 over the life of the animal. (In the DLC’s situation, the economy of scale may work in our favor; it’s likely even more expensive for a private owner to properly care for a lemur.) Sadly, the vast majority of private lemur owners have neither the money nor the desire to keep their high maintenance, very expensive pet primates for the full 30 years of their lives.
Challenges of lifetime care
There are other challenges, too. For example, even well-cared-for pet lemurs get sick (and can transfer illnesses to humans) – but very few veterinarians are comfortable with, or claim to work on, non-human primates. The fact that many pet lemurs tend to have serious nutritional problems from being fed inappropriate diets exacerbates the problem, resulting in privately-held pet lemurs developing a host of illnesses and often dying prematurely.
It is more common than not that pet lemurs are ultimately abandoned. So what is their fate? The lemur space at accredited institutions, zoos, and facilities like the DLC is limited. We are dedicated to maintaining a genetically viable population that serves as a safety net to wild populations of highly endangered lemurs. Lemurs with unknown origins, birthdates, pedigrees, etc. cannot be integrated into our managed programs. Moreover, we keep our lemurs as “wild” as possible, to maintain social groups and normal social behavior. It’s tough for an ex-pet to adapt to normal lemur social groups.
There are some reputable sanctuaries that are able to receive pet lemurs and try to re-socialize them. But these sanctuaries are overwhelmed with requests from pet lemur holders, usually lemurs with significant behavioral problems. Typically pet lemurs develop aggressive traits towards people, and they do not know how to socialize with other lemurs.
If a pet lemur or other pet primate injures someone, public health officials often require the animal to be euthanized. Nearly always, the animal is the ultimate loser.
Conclusion and resources
For these reasons and so many others, the Duke Lemur Center is absolutely against all trade in pet primates, and against the holding of any prosimian (lemur, loris, bushbaby, potto) as a pet. There are excellent documents from the American Zoological Association (AZA) and other organizations discussing the significant negative implications of keeping primates as pets, in terms of animal welfare and health as well as public health and safety. A link to the AZA document is posted below. We hope that it further explains the terrible consequences of keeping lemurs as pets.