Short Answer: Some exotic animals, like tigers, have no place in a house; others, like finger monkeys, can be raised responsibly in a home with proper veterinary care and a safe, pet-friendly living space. However, not all states allow exotic pets — even small ones, like finger monkeys — due to public safety and animal welfare concerns. Ownership of monkeys is prohibited in 22 states, and a further 19 states only allow ownership with a wildlife permit.
If your state does allow finger monkeys as pets, you can expect to pay between $1,500 and $5,000 to buy one. Additional costs to keep in mind include habitat, food, and veterinary care, which can add up to thousands of dollars. In this article, we answer more questions about finger monkey ownership including what finger monkeys are, whether you’re allowed to keep one, how to buy one, how much it costs to do so, and whether or not it’s worth it.
What Are Finger Monkeys?
You’ve probably seen the pictures online or a video on YouTube — a tiny, adorable, fuzzy creature with big eyes clinging to someone’s finger. Are these animals real? What are they?
The animals shown in these images are typically pygmy marmosets, commonly referred to as “finger monkeys” or “pocket monkeys.” Pygmy marmosets are New World monkeys, native to South America and commonly found in the forests of Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru.
The pygmy marmoset’s full-grown adult size is only about six inches long, not including the tail, which can grow to about eight inches. In the wild, they feed mostly on gum, sap, or resin from trees, which they access by cutting through the bark with a pair of super sharp incisor teeth. In addition to tree sap, wild marmosets feed on insects, small reptiles, fruit, nectar, and flowers.
The average lifespan of a pygmy marmoset in its natural habitat is 11 to 12 years, though they can live up to 16 in captivity. Natural predators include birds of prey and snakes.
Can You Keep a Monkey as a Pet?
Whether you can keep a monkey as a pet depends on where you live. Owning primates is illegal in 22 states, at the time of writing. An additional 19 states allow residents to own primates, but only with an approved possession certificate.
Below, we list the states where you cannot own primates, as well as the states that allow ownership with a permit and those that have no laws outlawing ownership. We compiled this information by studying each state’s legal code regarding animals.
Note: Even in states that do not restrict ownership of pygmy marmosets, cities and counties may have additional laws regarding pets which make it illegal to possess a primate; the state may also restrict the ownership of larger primates, such as chimpanzees.
States with No Legal Restrictions on Monkey Ownership
- North Carolina
States That Allow Monkey Ownership with a Permit or License
- New Hampshire
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
States That Prohibit Primate Ownership
- District of Columbia
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
How Much Does a Monkey Cost?
A monkey so small can’t be very expensive, right? Wrong. The going rate for a baby pet monkey is between $1,500 and $5,000. This price range is the same for most of the other types of small South American primates commonly kept as pets, like the slightly bigger Geoffrey’s marmoset, golden lion tamarin, or squirrel monkey. The capuchin monkey, which grows to about 12 inches or more and is sometimes used as a service animal, would cost in the upper end of this range.
There are other costs to consider if purchasing a pet monkey. Though you may be able to arrange a private purchase where you can pick the monkey up yourself, in all likelihood your new pet will have to be shipped to you from another state. The typical cost to ship a monkey is around $500 to any major airport that accepts live cargo.
On top of this, you’ll need to factor in the other costs of owning a monkey such as housing, food supplies, medical care, and extras. Though pygmy marmosets are small, their natural habitat is in the trees; you can’t house a marmoset in a shoebox-sized enclosure. Your monkey will only be happy if it has room to climb and swing freely. Recommended cage size, therefore, is at least 2.5 feet by 6 feet by 4 feet, which can cost more than $1,000.
In sum, you can expect to pay:
- Cage: $500 to $1,000 for an indoor cage or $1,000 to $3,500 for an outdoor cage.
- Food: Fruits, vegetables and small insects will cost at least $25 per week.
- Habitat replacements (nesting box, branches, swings, toys): Varies, but typically over $100
- Permits: As noted above, many states that allow primate ownership require a permit or license, which comes with a fee. Attempting not to license your pet can lead the state to confiscate your pet, charge you even higher fees, and, in some states, press criminal charges.
- Supplements: You will need specialized monkey food to provide your pet with some of the nutrients it would get in the wild. Cost is about $30 for a six-month supply.
- Veterinary care: You will need to find a vet specializing in exotic pets, with the knowledge to provide care for a monkey. Veterinary costs include regular check-ups as well as emergencies. Expect to pay at least several hundred dollars per year.
Because monkeys are exotic and not well-suited for living indoors, homing a monkey requires a large time commitment. Monkeys are very animals and will not do well if left alone for long stretches of time. In the wild, they live in family units and have constant companionship. Consider the amount of time you spend away from home, and whether someone else will be available to watch your pet while you are at work or in school.
Know as well that, in captivity, a finger monkey can live to about 16 years of age; primate ownership is a long-term commitment.
Is Buying a Monkey Worth It?
A search online of the pros and cons of owning a finger monkey will lead you to literally dozens of sites that detail the downside of pet monkeys, especially as they mature. Even on sites that are “pro”-pet monkey, you will find anecdotes of the pets becoming aggressive or exhibiting negative behaviors (like throwing feces) as they reach sexual maturity. Monkeys are wild animals; they tend to attack with their claws and bite their keepers. Though they are small and cannot inflict the same level of damage as, say, a great ape, small primates like marmosets can still hurt people. In addition to clawing and biting, monkeys are very difficult to potty train, so clean up and smell are factors to consider before purchasing a monkey.
Aside from the monkey’s challenging behavior, you may want to consider the ethics of primate ownership. Ask yourself questions like “Do I believe it is humane to keep a monkey indoors rather than in its natural habitat?” and “Can I trust that the breeder/seller has treated this animal humanely?” Consider, as well, what will happen to your pet if things don’t work out. Are there any rescues in your area willing to rehome exotic pets, or will the animal be euthanized? All of these factors should be weighed before choosing whether to buy an exotic pet.
How to Buy a Pet Monkey
Importing primates into the United States as pets is strictly prohibited by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Monkeys living in the US are supplied by breeders, who have built their businesses from pygmy marmosets already in the U.S. prior to the implementation of the CDC’s regulations.
You won’t find monkeys for adoption alongside cats and dogs at your local animal shelter. Instead, you will need to look online for a reputable breeder or to find a monkey available through a private sale.
Below is a list of places where you can find a pet monkey for sale:
If you are considering a pygmy marmoset as a pet, know that the costs can be high — both upfront and for continuing care — and that your monkey, despite its size, can be difficult to care for. Before attempting to purchase a monkey as a pet, check your state’s regulations regarding the possession of wild animals and research the care that your new pet will require. Consider factors like habitat requirements, potential behavioral problems, how much time you will be able to spend with your pet, and veterinary costs before making your decision.