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State considers tighter restrictions on pet monkeys

There's a bill in the Missouri house that would require permits and regulation by the USDA for those who wish to own primates.

March 05, 2013|by Joanna Small, KSPR News | Reporter and Photographer

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- Owning a monkey in Missouri requires as much paperwork as owning a dog or cat: none.  State lawmakers are looking at changing that.  There's a bill in the House that would tighten restrictions on keeping a primate as pet.

Half of all privately owned primates in the nation live in Missouri, and the facility housing Travis, the chimpanzee who became infamous by mauling a woman in Connecticut, is south of St. Louis.  All it takes is a few thousand dollars and any Missourian can be an unregulated chimp owner.

JoJo, 26, may sit at the table, eat dessert, and wear pants, but he doesn't wear the pants in the Gilmore family.
 
"I went in his pen and we fought for a while and I showed him I was dominate and, once he understood that, we got along fine," said Rick Gilmore. 

Still, Gilmore says JoJo can be a bit hostile.

"Well, he's through the years bit my wife and her sister and bit my sister."

At one time Gilmore owned a ranch full of exotic animals.  Now he's just got JoJo, who lives at his home in Springfield under Gilmore's watchful eye, but not the city, county, or state's.

"There's no permits required."

Last year, after lobbying by several groups including a tiger sanctuary in Highlandville, Missouri adopted new restrictions on big cat and bear ownerships.  There's a new $2,500-per-animal fee, cage requirements, and regulation by the USDA.
 
"People have to follow all the USDA regs we have to follow.  They have to have vet care, microchip the animals, have insurance- $250,000 in insurance and they still have to notify the sheriff," saud Keith Kinkade with the National Tiger Sanctuary.

This year's "Nonhuman Primate Act" seeks to do some of the same for monkeys, making permits and a plan to capture the animal in the event of an escape  mandatory.  More rules may mean fewer private owners, which Gilmore says is probably a good thing.

"They're fun and cuddly when they're little," he said. 

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By now, JoJo is a beloved member of the family, but he needs constant reminding he's not head of the household.

"When they get sexually mature, which is 6 to 7 years old, they're going to try to whip you because they're going to try to be dominate."
 
Right now, primates are legal to own everywhere in Missouri except Kansas City, St. Louis, and Branson.  As with large cats and bears, you have to notify the local county sheriff if you own one.

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