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Frequently Asked Questions

Why help monkeys?

Currently, there are approximately 106,000 monkeys living in U.S. research facilities (~10,000 are living in Madison, WI). Amy Kerwin founded Primates Incorporated in 2004 while she was working with 97 rhesus monkeys in a laboratory at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. After discovering their amazing intelligence and individual personalities, she concluded there had to be a way to both improve their welfare and increase the frequency of their placement into primate sanctuaries where they could experience a peaceful and enriching environment.


She began networking with other primate sanctuaries and discovered most of them were near capacity. As a result, they were often forced to turn away monkeys from research facilities. The reality is that these monkeys are then sold to more studies, kept on as breeders, or euthanized to free up their cages.


Additionally, thousands of monkeys are bought and sold in the exotic pet trade. Monkeys do not make good pets. They become aggressive toward humans as they age and, as a result, are frequently sent to a primate sanctuary as a solution. In fact, the sanctuaries that Kerwin initially communicated with were at capacity because they were inundated with pet monkeys. Since then, many sanctuaries have and continue to expand, but the number of monkeys in need of permanent homes far exceeds the space available.


Our goal at Primates Incorporated is to rehabilitate and socialize the monkeys in our care so that they have the opportunity to experience a life similar to that of their wild counterparts. Through behavioral observation and enrichment, we attempt to reduce the abnormal behaviors typical of captive monkeys (e.g., pacing, fur plucking, biting) and encourage the kind of behaviors they demonstrate in the wild, such as grooming, foraging, and resting. It is also our intent to house the monkeys in pairs or groups, which is closer to how they live in their natural environment.

Can I visit the sanctuary?

We take pride in our sanctuary and want to share our space with interested patrons. To maintain a peaceful and enriching environment for the monkeys, we created open houses and prescheduled tours as a way to show our interested patrons around. Often there is a waiting list because the tours only occur during nice weather when the monkeys can be viewed in their outdoor enclosures from a safe distance. For upcoming open house dates, please visit our Events page.


We also welcome volunteer work groups, as there is always much to do at the sanctuary. Any help is appreciated! Please contact founder and executive director, Amy Kerwin, at for more information. Thank you for your interest and for caring about monkeys.



How long do monkeys live?
A monkey’s lifespan is dependent on a number of factors, including the species it belongs to and its unique experiences as a pet or in a laboratory. For instance, cynomolgus monkeys (a.k.a., crab-eating macaques or long-tailed macaques) are one of the most prevalent species in research and live an average of 38 years in captivity. Vervet monkeys, popular as pets, can live up to 30 years in captivity. Primates Incorporated accepts monkeys of all ages, though we do require that males undergo a vasectomy prior to their arrival.
What are the regulations for housing monkeys?

Primates Incorporated is licensed with the USDA under the category “exhibitor,” which is required if a facility is exposing non-paid staff, such as volunteers and members of the public, to exotic animals. Research laboratories are licensed by the USDA under the category “research facility.” Despite being licensed under different categories, sanctuaries and laboratories must adhere to similar standards of care as well as third-party inspections.


In addition, Primates Incorporated is accredited through the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries (GFAS), whose innovative guidelines help sanctuaries exceed the federal (USDA) standards of care. In addition, we are members of the North American Primate Sanctuary Alliance (NAPSA), a nonprofit collaborative organization helping to strengthen the primate sanctuary community and its resources.

Do monkeys carry diseases?

Many monkeys who arrive at sanctuaries from research facilities were involved in biomedical and toxicology studies where they may have been exposed to certain diseases, drugs, and chemical compounds. During some of these studies, the effect of a specific drug or chemical is tested on a monkey’s whole-body system. But after testing has ceased, the drug or chemical leaves the body and the monkey is healthy again (unless the test harmed the animal beyond recovery or it was a planned terminal study). Additionally, there are “control” monkeys, laboratory “favorites,” breeders, and monkeys used in cognitive testing who are generally not exposed to disease or chemical substances.


Primates Incorporated requires all incoming monkeys to have a clean bill of health before arriving at the sanctuary. Laboratories employ on-site veterinarians who can perform full physicals and blood analyses to ensure monkeys are healthy before their departure.


Monkeys from the pet trade will need to undergo a full physical as well and need to be given a clean bill of health prior to signing over ownership to the sanctuary. Please let us know if you need help finding a veterinarian who can help.

Are the sanctuary monkeys noisy?

Monkeys are quiet most of the time while they perform their most common social activities: foraging and grooming one another. However:

  • They are all collectively loud just before meals (primate “cheers” from excitement). In addition to the food enrichment (i.e., snacks) that they receive throughout the day, the monkeys are fed full meals twice daily – once in the morning and once at night. They are fed indoors, though, so their vocalizations are not audible from outside.
  • They can be loud when encountering a disruption of some kind like a train or a flock of birds, as they may emit a few warning calls to each other.
  • They are loud when there is a conflict in the group, but these conflicts are usually brief and sorted out within a few minutes.

We have attempted to minimize noise by:

  • Building enclosures as far in from the perimeter of the property as possible.
  • Planting more trees around the enclosures and perimeter of the property to serve as additional noise barriers.
  • Housing the monkeys indoors at night so no outside noise will be heard after 5pm.



Would you like to send a monkey to a sanctuary?

Increasingly, research facilities are choosing to send their monkeys to sanctuaries at the conclusion of certain studies. Those who have made such a commitment understand the ethical value of giving these animals an opportunity to live out their days with dignity and in peace.


Thank you for considering sanctuary for the monkeys under your care! If this is your first time attempting to move monkeys from a laboratory to a sanctuary facility and you would like to be connected with other researchers who have experience doing this, please let us know. We would be happy to connect you so that you get access to the resources you need and, if appropriate, develop a standardized process for your research facility.


Monkeys from research facilities: Primates Incorporated requires that each incoming monkey has a clean bill of health, has undergone a vasectomy if a male*, and has a negative TB test within 10 days before departure to the sanctuary. Note that we require six months to prepare incoming monkeys’ indoor and outdoor enclosures. We also request a one-time contribution of $15,000 that covers 1.5 years of care for the monkey and enclosure modifications. We have to pay for the lifetime care of each monkey and so the support of the community is vital in our mission.


To learn how one laboratory helps animals achieve sanctuary, please watch this presentation: The 4th R: Rehoming, Retirement and Release 


Pet monkeys: If you are a pet monkey owner looking to place your monkey in sanctuary, we will talk with you to create a specialized transition plan and funding strategy. Once you have committed to sending your monkey to Primates Incorporated, we will create a waiting list, as we require six months to prepare the indoor and outdoor enclosures. We also require that incoming monkeys have a clean bill of health, receive a physical from a veterinarian, undergo a vasectomy if male*, and have a negative TB test within 10 days before departure to the sanctuary. If you are having a difficult time finding a veterinarian, please let us know. We may be able to connect you with a clinic to ensure your monkey receives a full physical.


Please keep these factors in mind when considering sanctuary for your pet monkey:

  • Transitioning your pet monkey to a sanctuary can be very stressful. Note that you will be saying goodbye to your monkey; owners can no longer interact with their monkey after he or she arrives at the sanctuary. Our goal is that resident monkeys will spend their time learning from each other and learning to display natural behaviors. That means part of their rehabilitation process is encouraging them to socialize and interact with other monkeys and not with humans. You can still see them regularly on Facebook, become their sponsor if you wish to receive videos and updates throughout the year, or visit them from a distance during sanctuary events and tours.
  • We will be asking you to donate to their cost of care. It costs over $10,000 per year to provide specialized care for one monkey, and your monkey will be spending the rest of its life under our care.


*This procedure is necessary to prevent breeding, as our long-term and gradual goal is to create multi-male/multi-female troops among the resident monkeys.

What types of enrichment do you provide the monkeys?

Our goal is to simulate for our monkey residents the life they would be living in the wild, where they travel and forage for food and enrichment. As such, we provide opportunities for our monkeys to move readily between indoor and outdoor environments, forage for treats within these spaces, and explore novel objects.


Our sanctuary includes large indoor and outdoor enclosures that the monkeys can travel between via elevated walkways. We place treats such as sunflower seeds and raisins on the ground and in the straw bedding to stimulate foraging behavior. All of the monkeys receive two forms of enrichment daily, which is planned by our Primate Behavior Specialist. Enrichment includes food puzzles, magazines with honey and seeds, stuffed KONG toys, music, and movies. We also feed the monkeys periodically throughout the day because doing so more closely mimics their foraging behavior in the wild. The monkeys snack on various fruits and vegetables as well as their monkey chow, which contains all of the vitamins and proteins they need.


We also coordinate volunteer days during which staff and volunteers plant vegetation for the monkeys and incorporate branches into their enclosures. Although it could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, we would one day love to construct even bigger enclosures around the existing trees on the property.


Finally, even though most of the monkeys are housed in small groups of two or three, they are keenly aware of one another and are also enriched by each other’s sights and sounds. They also get to know and trust sanctuary staff as primates in the troop. Staff can even safely groom the monkeys with a backscratcher if they display “presenting” behaviors.

The monkeys are so cute! Can I hold one? Should I buy one? (Short answer = No)

Monkeys are wild animals and thus need to be treated with dignity and caution. We let the monkeys be monkeys by allowing them to communicate with each other and by providing them with plenty of foraging opportunities, a balanced diet that includes fruits and vegetables, food puzzles, and enriched indoor and outdoor environments. USDA licensing requires that the public stay at least three feet from an animal enclosure. To ensure maximum safety, we enforce a six-foot rule when hosting on-site events such as open houses and private tours.


Please do not buy a pet monkey! They look cute and cuddly online, but there are a number of reasons why they do not make good pets:


  • They can be aggressive and lash out at you or a stranger.
  • Finding veterinary care can be difficult because so many veterinarians are ethically opposed to keeping wild animals as pets.
  • While the exact number is unknown, the number of monkeys kept as pets reaches into the tens of thousands nationwide. Because so many pet monkeys are eventually surrendered to sanctuaries, there is little room left to accommodate monkeys from research facilities.
  • You are supporting an industry which involves weaning babies from their mothers at too early of an age only to “cling” onto the human buyer. Premature weaning is also factor that causes abnormal behavior later in life.
  • Once at sanctuary, pet monkeys are especially difficult to socialize with other monkeys because, often, humans have raised them from a very young age with no monkey companions.

For more information on why you should not buy a pet monkey, please read the book Monkeys Don’t Wear Diapers by Polly Schultz.

Do You Know Who’s Who?

There are many types of wonderful primates. But Primates Incorporated can only retire certain species. Can you guess which and why? Click on their faces to learn more about each.



Rhesus Macaques

Rhesus Macaques













Chimps aren’t monkeys, like Gorillas, they’re apes. But apes and monkeys are interestingly, both Primates!

Primates are mammals that share many unique characteristics. In general, they have hair instead of fur, a higher brain-to-body size ratio and more intelligence than other animals. Most have fingernails instead of claws. They also have finger pads, and opposable thumbs which give them the ability to grasp with their fingers and/or toes. Most primates, except for the more primitive species, are active during the day and rely more on vision than on smell. Because their eyes tend to be on the front of their face, they have binocular vision, meaning they have depth perception.

Unknown to many, monkeys are not apes. Great apes belong to the distinct superfamily hominoidea, and are genetically and physically very different from monkeys. Surprisingly, there are only 5 distinct species of great apes and over 100 species of monkeys. Yet great apes tend to attract a wider audience due to their genetic and behavioral similarities to humans. Great ape retirement from biomedical research has been a priority for years; however, monkeys have not received the same advocacy. Now that chimpanzees have been retired from research, it is time to focus on retiring monkeys since thousands are living in research laboratories and they too are primates deserving of our respect.

Primates can be divided into five groups:
1. Great Apes
2. Small-bodied Apes (Lesser Apes)
3. Old World Monkeys
4. New World Monkeys
5. Prosimians

Note: The examples above represent the 5 different groups of primates. There are over 100 species of monkeys. It wouldn’t be realistic to show them all here.