Squirrel Monkey

Saimiri sciureus, S. oerstedii, S. boliviensis, S. vanzolini

Squirrel monkeys are small primates native to tropical rainforests in Central and South America. Four similar-looking species are recognized. In the wild they live in large social groups of up to 200 individuals and spend most of their time foraging in the trees for fruits, seeds, and insects. They typically live for 15 to 20 years.

Squirrel monkeys are difficult to breed in captivity, so wild individuals are commonly trapped and imported to the U.S. for medical research purposes.

Did You Know?

Squirrel monkeys are highly social and normally live in large groups of 20 to 200 individuals.

Sustainability

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

Significant Cause for Concern

Common squirrel monkeys (Saimiri sciureus) are not currently endangered, but they are experiencing habitat loss as the rainforest is developed and converted for agricultural uses. Other species of squirrel monkey (S. oerstedtii, S. boliviensis, and S. vanzolini) are threatened and/or critically endangered in the wild.

It is illegal to bring squirrel monkeys into the U.S. as pets, but many wild individuals are legally trapped and imported every year for medical research. Some of these may end up in the illegal pet trade.

EcoHealthy Recommendation:

The squirrel monkey 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

Squirrel monkeys are behaviorally adaptable and able to eat a wide variety of food, so animals that escape or are released can sometimes survive in the wild. At least two self-sustaining, free-ranging populations have already become established in Florida; one of these has persisted and reproduced in the wild for more than 50 years. Some of these monkeys have become habituated to hand-feeding by humans, thus increasing the risk of injuries and disease transmission for both species.

EcoHealthy Recommendation:

The squirrel monkey 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

Squirrel monkeys are highly social and normally live in large groups of 20–200 individuals. They cannot be humanely kept as solitary pets. They also require specialized care and conditions to be healthy and happy in captivity. For instance, they require warm temperatures and high humidity to prevent respiratory infections. To simulate their tree-living habits, they need tall cages (above human eye level) with many perches to climb and rest on, and “hide boxes” to escape threatening situations. Squirrel monkeys also require a great deal of attention as well as activities to keep them mentally stimulated or they can become depressed and develop self-destructive behaviors such as self-biting and hair-plucking.

Because of the specialized care that nonhuman primates (including squirrel monkeys) require, experts agree that these animals should not be kept as pets.

EcoHealthy Recommendation:

The squirrel monkey 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

Like other primate species, squirrel monkeys may carry numerous diseases that can be transmitted to humans. These include tuberculosis, Salmonella, Shigella, Campylobacter, and several parasitic diseases that can be difficult to detect or diagnose. Squirrel monkeys are also susceptible to many other zoonotic diseases such as influenza A, tularemia, and malaria, if exposed. Many squirrel monkeys also harbor herpesviruses dangerous to other nonhuman primates.

EcoHealthy Recommendation:

The squirrel monkey 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.
More about EcoHealth Alliance