Rhesus Macaque

Macaca mulatta

Rhesus macaques (also known as rhesus monkeys) are native to India, China, and much of southeast Asia. They are found in a wide range of habitats, including arid, open terrain, woodlands, mountains, wetlands, and agricultural and rural areas. Rhesus macaques are brown or grey in color and have pink, almost hairless faces. They are about 1.5 to 2 feet tall; adult males weigh approximately 15 lbs, females rarely exceed 12 lbs. They can live up to 25 years. The rhesus macaque has been used extensively in medical and biological research, even the space program.

Did You Know?

The Rhesus Macaque is listed as a globally invasive species.


Does the harvest for wildlife trade or captive breeding of this species harm wild populations?

Some Cause for Concern

The rhesus macaque is not believed to be in imminent danger, due to its large native geographic range and broad habitat tolerance. Many wild populations may, however, face serious threats in the near future as they lose habitat to human expansion. Wild populations may also be at risk from interbreeding with released monkeys, those from laboratory studies and “problem” pets; interbreeding with captive animals could alter the genetic integrity of wild populations and reduce their ability to survive. Captive macaques could also transmit diseases into wild populations.

Rhesus macaques breed well in captivity, so harvesting of individuals from the wild is not necessary for the pet trade.  However, there is evidence that the species is still illegally captured and traded in China.

EcoHealthy Recommendation:

The macaque is not a recommended pet.

Invasion Threat

Does the release or escape of this species into the wild harm the environment and/or economy?

Significant Cause for Concern

The rhesus macaque is listed as a globally invasive species. Its habitat flexibility has enabled it to establish self-sustaining free-ranging populations in many areas including Brazil, the Cook Islands, Mexico, Puerto Rico, even the United States (e.g., South Carolina and Florida).

Introduced macaques have significantly impacted many native species and communities. Intelligent, aggressive and territorial, rhesus macaques displace native animals as they become established in new locations. They are also voracious omnivores that feed on native plants and small animals.

EcoHealthy Recommendation:

The macaque is not a recommended pet. However, before obtaining any non-traditional pet, check that it is legal to own one in your state of residence and check for permitting requirements. Only acquire a pet that is from a reputable breeder or dealer to ensure that you are not buying an illegally imported or wild-caught animal. Always keep your pet inside a safe and secure enclosure. Never release a pet into the wild.

Ease of Care

Does harvest, captive breeding, transport, or being kept as a pet harm individual animals?

Significant Cause for Concern

Rhesus macaques are extremely susceptible to stress in captivity. They require highly specialized care and living conditions, including extensive social interaction, to be healthy and happy. Stressed animals may exhibit abnormal behavior (e.g., self-biting) and physiological symptoms (e.g., severe hair loss). For these and other reasons, many experts believe that rhesus macaques (and other primates) should not be kept as pets.

EcoHealthy Recommendation:

The macaque is not a recommended pet.

Health Threat

Does this animal pose a health risk to native wildlife, humans, livestock and agriculture?

Significant Cause for Concern

Rhesus macaques pose a significant threat to humans and other native and domesticated mammals. Captive animals are aggressive and can seriously injure their owners, children, and other family pets. Rhesus macaques are known carriers of retroviruses and herpes-B virus, which may be deadly to humans.  They also may carry a range of parasitic and bacterial diseases that may be transmitted to humans.

EcoHealthy Recommendation:

The macaque is not a recommended pet. However, before purchasing a non-traditional pet, ensure the animal was captive bred vs. wild caught. Be sure to ask if the animal has been checked by a veterinarian and obtain a list of any medical treatments the animal has received.

EcoHealth Alliance works at the intersection of ecosystem, animal and human health through local conservation programs and develops global health solutions to emerging diseases.
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