About 5,000 primates are being kept as pets in the UK, with many living in bird cages, in filthy conditions and being fed sugary drinks and fast food.
The shocking lack of welfare surrounding these wild animals living in British homes has led to seven of the UK's largest animal protection organisations to join forces and demand that the government ban primates as pets.
More than 1,500 people have signed a petition so far, calling for the ban.
Animal charities said they are receiving increasingly more call outs relating to the welfare of monkeys and other primates.
Marmosets, capuchins and squirrel monkeys are just some of the primates being kept away from their natural environments.
The Born Free Foundation, British Veterinary Association (BVA), Captive Animals’ Protection Society, Four Paws, OneKind, the RSPCA and Wild Futures believe the cases of suffering they encounter on a frequent basis are just the tip of the iceberg.
On Thursday they launched a petition calling on the government to introduce regulations that will end the keeping and trading of these complex creatures as pets.
RSPCA staff officer, inspector Simon Osbourne, said: “The large coalition of organisations that are calling for an end to the keeping and trade of primates for pets reflects what an urgent issue this has become.
“It doesn’t matter how well intentioned the owner is, primates are not suitable pets. All primates, hand-reared or not, are wild animals.
“They are highly intelligent beings that need specialist care in captivity. The complex environment that a primate needs can never be provided in a house.
“We find them living in bird cages, being fed sugary drinks and sweets and living in filthy conditions.
“Even when the owner has good intentions the animals’ needs are not being met because primates are so difficult to keep and it is extremely complicated to ensure their welfare needs are being met.
“While everyone is aware that everyday domestic pets such as cats and dogs are the subject of RSPCA investigations up and down the country many are unaware of some of the more unusual creatures that are helped by us. And the truth is that the number of primates that are being helped by us is growing.”
RSPCA's primate fax:
● Primates need to live in social groups - in 60% of cases investigated by the RSPCA these animals were being kept alone in isolation.
● Usually sold as infants, pet primates suffer emotional damage and are deprived of essential social learning opportunities that continue to cause problems, Even if an owner tries to pair their primate up with another at a later date they may not get along and the damage has already been done.
● The most common monkey that both Wild Futures and the RSPCA receives calls about is the marmoset monkey, one of the smallest monkeys in the world that generally lives for around 20 years.
● Frequently kept in a bird cage as a pet, in the wild they travel up to 0.6 of a mile every day.
● The RSPCA has taken seven prosecutions to court over the last six years in regards to primates. That averages at more than one per year.
Director at Wild Futures Monkey Sanctuary, Rachel Hevesi, said: “We witness the effects of this cruel and unnecessary trade on a daily basis. Every primate that we have rescued has arrived with physical and/or psychological damage.
“It can take years of intensive care for them to recover. It is inspiring to see such positive changes, but heartbreaking to see the struggle along the way.”
The animal organisations said that the trend for keeping primates is on the rise. A number of reasons have been suggested why this might be.
The RSPCA said the growing trend could be down to celebrities “glamourising handling these animals”, such as taking selfies with them and the use of monkeys in music videos and television adverts.
Currently, a licence is not required to keep a monkey as a pet. So far, 15 European countries have introduced a ban on keeping primates as pets, of either all or some species.