Gladys Porter Zoo Seeks to Shed Light on the Dark Side of the Exotic Pet Trade

The Gladys Porter Zoo is asking for help from the community to spread the word about wildlife trafficking, an issue that has recently seriously impacted day-to-day activities at the Zoo. Over the past three months, the Zoo has taken in and been caring for 19 infant Mexican spider monkeys, most of which were seized from smugglers at border crossings by federal agents in South Texas. The smuggling is in direct response to demand for baby monkeys by the U.S. pet trade. 

Staff want to call attention to the horrors that these baby monkeys have faced as victims of the illegal wildlife trade. Many people do not know that the baby monkeys sold as pets must first be stolen from their mothers in the wild. As one can imagine, the mothers do not willingly allow people to take their infants; they must first be killed. Only then can the babies be taken from their dead mothers. As long as there is a demand for these animals as pets, these horrific acts will continue to occur. 

“We need the public to understand that while these animals may look cute and cuddly, the consequences of acquiring them as pets have far-reaching negative effects,” emphasized Dr. Pat Burchfield, the Zoo’s executive director. “The babies are traumatized by the loss of their mothers. While they can be hand-raised, they can no longer be safely returned to their native habitats. By making them household pets, people are directly contributing to the elimination of this species in the wild and the illegal black market trade of wild animals.”

In addition to the Zoo’s ongoing top care for 1,500 mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish, the fragile infant monkeys have kept animal care staff busy around-the-clock. After the babies are stabilized, each monkey receives a complete physical workup. They are also treated for wounds, fungal and bacterial infections, lacerations, lice, and other parasites. Their daily care includes being bottle-fed human infant formula every three hours (even through the night), cleaning, and medical treatments. By the time the 9:00 am feedings are complete, it is time to commence the noon feedings.

Zoo staff have been in contact with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums to find future homes for the monkeys. But it will be quite a while before they are ready to travel. In the meantime, caring for them is time-consuming and expensive. For this reason, the Gladys Porter Zoo has also set up a GoFundMe campaign and seeks donations to purchase additional incubators, build more outdoor enclosures and continue providing quality care to the orphans. 

Mexican spider monkeys are listed as endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. Their populations are extremely fragmented in the wild due to habitat loss and they continue to decrease due to hunting for the pet trade.