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October 22, 2015
The Java monkey, also called a crab-eating macaque, has shared forest and river edge habitats with humans since prehistoric times. Some treat this Old World primate as a sacred animal; it’s found in temples in its homeland of Southeast Asia. Others see it as an agricultural pest. In the U.S., it’s a darling of the exotic pet trade. Clearly, one common narrative for this exotic creature has been a shared life with humans.
That certainly appears to be the story of the crab-eating macaque “Jacks,” who has had quite a journey, including a recent 10-day visit to the Saint Louis Zoo.
On October 5, a call came in from the Illinois Conservation Police asking the Zoo for help in housing Jacks. The Saint Louis Zoo is occasionally asked to become the temporary home for exotic animals that are victims of the wildlife trade. After seeing an online message that a macaque was for sale by a homeowner, the police seized Jacks from a central Illinois resident. The resident had violated Illinois’ Dangerous Animals Act by owning an animal that is illegal for private citizens to possess.
Even though the Zoo does not currently have this species in its care and usually does not assume ownership of rescue animals from unknown parentage, Jacks came to live in the quarantine area in our 17,000-square-foot Endangered Species Research Center & Veterinary Hospital.
As soon as Zoo veterinarians examined Jacks, they found he had all the markings of an exotic animal that had received inadequate care through the majority of its life. Jacks suffered from broken and extremely worn, possibly cut canines, two of which were severely abscessed, and a hole in his left ear—all indicative of a rough life of poor care. The veterinary staff treated these conditions, which involved significant dental work. In addition, Jacks suffered from undiagnosed arthritis of his spine and elbow and evidence of a previously broken (and now healed) arm. While recuperating, it was clear that Jacks is an extremely intelligent animal, with a previous life history that we will never fully know. How did he wind up as a pet living among humans and not his species? Where did he come from? How did he incur all these physical ailments? What medical care did he receive before getting to the Zoo?
Despite all the physical conditions that veterinarians can treat to improve an animal’s welfare and quality of life, there are also psychological conditions that affect these exotic animals in personal possession. These are much harder to treat. The Saint Louis Zoo is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), which recently issued a white paper on “Personal Possession of Non-Human Primates.” That white paper cites studies showing these animals often suffer from social isolation that causes profound and often permanent behavioral consequences, including problems with reproduction and parenting. Often, this also triggers a multi-generational cycle of rejected infants that must then be raised by humans to survive. The white paper also cited statistics on the impact on public health and safety: 275 injuries to humans in 43 states between 1990 and 2013 and transmission of a range of diseases from parasitic infections to influenza to dangerous viruses.
An estimated 15,000 privately owned non-human primates can be found in the United States, according to the AZA document. Tragically, there are no federal laws banning personal possession of many exotic animal species nationwide; 14 states ban private possession of exotic animals; seven states have a partial ban; and 15 require a license or permit. In Missouri, there are no laws regulating the personal ownership of exotic animals. Illinois has tougher laws, which led to Jacks’ rescue.
On Friday, October 16, the Zoo’s animal care staff transported the visiting macaque in a van, and he moved south, calmly watching the scenery along the way to a new home. Jacks now lives in an accredited sanctuary where staff are trained in caring for rescued exotic animals and where he can complete the next chapter in his life story.