Indoor Safety for Monkeys and Primates
Safety is an on going issue in all our lives, for
ourselves, our children and our indoor monkeys. New monkey owners,
although they may have experience with other animals, need to be
especially mindful of the trouble that a monkey's hands, its agility and
sometimes adult strength can provide opportunity for. With indoor
monkeys who may have some freedom in the house, it's useful to review
some safety precautions aimed at young children.
Remember though, that children cannot leap to a chandelier, to a burning stovetop or the refrigerator top where you might keep that prescription medication or toxic drain cleaner. At what age development do monkeys acquire the ability to open doors and drawers, turn on stove knobs and get into mischief around the house? This can only be answered by individual experience, since monkeys differ from species to species in intelligence, strength and ability.
Infant monkeys, who are still at the age of complete dependence on their own or a surrogate mother, are least likely to be injured by their own strength or ability to get into household items, but anything's possible with a monkey. Once they begin to venture around the household environment on their own, we can only be surprised when they develop a new ability to unlatch or unscrew the opportunity for household danger. In general, larger monkeys seem to have more natural talent for overriding babyproof latches, opening the unopenable and moving the unmovable. Smaller, weaker primates such as dwarf bushbabies, marmosets and squirrel monkeys are more limited in what they can open and do.
ELECTRICAL APPLIANCES AND OUTLETS: Dangling appliance cords can be dangerous. These could be grabbed, bitten or an attempt could be made, especially by a younger monkey, to hang from them. An iron or toaster becomes a heavy weapon if it is pulled down onto a monkey's head or yours or your child's and could result in injury or death. Don't leave plugged in appliances near little monkey hands which could knock them over or pull their power cords. If a monkey pulls and electrical cord from the socket and makes contact with the current, the resulting shock would most likely result in death. Also, buy extension cords that have covers over the extra outlets, since the ends of an extension cord are "live". Even outlets fitted with child proof safety covers require supervision.
If you want your monkey to stay for periods of time in an indoor room without complete supervision, electrical outlets can be "obsolete". First remove the plastic cover. Then use several screws to cover the outlet with a piece of inch plywood. The plywood should extend well over the size of the outlet and be screwed on in the center and corners. Baby companies used to make a raised plastic outlet box with a long center screw, which could also be used for closing an outlet off completely, but they seem to have discontinued this product. Monkeys should not be allowed to chew on electrical cord even when they are out of the socket. It is very common for household rabbits to chew electrical cords which have to be covered with plastic or Tygon tubing. The chewing of cords can cause copper poisoning, which could result in your monkey having a seizure.
LAMPS AND LIGHT BULBS: Monkeys, lamps and light bulbs do not mix well either. First of all, even small monkey's flying leap across the room can knock an unanchored lamp over. If monkeys run loose in the room, lamps should somehow be fastened to untippable furniture or to the wall. Also monkeys learn to unscrew light bulbs. One adolescent capuchin (Cebus appella) would unscrew only the cold bulbs at first (the socket is still "live" and dangerous if the bulb is burned out). Later she would find a small towel and drop it over a hot, turned on bulb in order to try to unscrew it without burning her hands. Even if the lamp cords are protected with plastic tubing and the outlets covered, unprotected bulbs can still be a problem around monkeys. One squirrel monkey (Saimiri sciureus) who could not unscrew bulbs, knocked a lamp over onto the carpet. Without supervision, a hot bulb on a carpet could smoulder and possible start a fire.
Another capuchin seemed to actually have a fascination with fire. Thinking her bedroom was monkey proofed, her owner would leave the 3 year old capuchin alone for short periods of time while she ran errands in another room in the house. The monkey seemed to be playing with clothing around the light bulb and eventually succeed in starting a slow smoldering of the cloth (a precursor to flames) by holding T shirt over the hot bulb.
STOVE SAFETY: Even with human primates, the stove is the cause of untold numbers of fatal and disfiguring mishaps. It is best not to cook with a monkey loose in the room. One leap could land a monkey in a pot of boiling water or tonight's stir fry, especially if the monkey is frightened or being chased. Some stoves have handles that are easy to turn on; our cats used to be able to light ours, and usually chose the middle of the night to do so. Handles should be taken off and kept in a drawer next to the stove if this danger is present.
PILOT LIGHTS: Primates are often creative in finding household danger spots. I have a small hot water heater above my stove, as is custom in Japan. When loose in my apartment, one of my pottos (Perodicticus potto) found this a nice, warm place to sit because of the pilot light. If I had turned it on without first looking up, my potto would have been killed. They aren't allowed in the kitchen any more. Monkeys should not be allowed access to pilot lights on stoves, wall heaters etc.
STRANGULATION: Constant vigilance is required throughout the house to keep your monkey safe. Many innocent seeming items can prove deadly. People have come home from work to find their beloved dog strangle by an accordion style baby gate. Drapery cords or pet leashes or rope of any kind can be pulled into a monkeys cage and result in strangulation. One caged capuchin became entangled and nearly lost his life before his owner came home and found him. He suffered temporary partial paralysis, which lasted for several months. Neck collars can also be a worry with active primates. Although some people use neck collars instead of belts with pear shaped monkeys like spiders, technically there is a chance of strangulation, so they cannot be recommended.
BROKEN GLASS: Sooner or later most capuchins display their characteristic banging or nut cracking behavior. One capuchin was allowed to play for months with a pair of pliers when she came out in the living room. She seemed intent with the mechanics of opening and closing them. Then. then quickly one day, she took them over to the picture window. Though she was unharmed, with one standing blow struck the window by the flat side of the pliers, she was able to shatter the glass. Spot nosed guenons (Cercopithecus petaurista) will display their characteristic kicking behavior with furniture. One male spot nose cracked a window, as he swiftly kicked a wooden chair into it. Broken glass can injure as it falls, so careful supervision is required around windows.
Monkeys get into more than their share of trouble. With monkeys on the premises, the safest way to deal with all questionable products is to make them unattainable. In dealing with monkeys, one cannot be sure of their innate ability to open drawers, doors and containers, so the most reliable method of safety is to keep products under lock and key in a cabinet or a chest. This applies even to caged monkeys. We have all heard stories about monkeys who escape their cages when their owner isn't home. The owner comes home to an unbelievable disaster containing bits and pieces of everything in the room, mixed together in a dripping heap. It is best in this event, not to have had anything toxic available. Many monkeys seem to be fascinated by pills and numerous monkeys have died after ingesting bottles of aspirin or other medications. Monkeys can focus on such details as where they saw someone "hide" a bottle of medication. Later, perhaps when no one is looking, they will try their best to open the drawer or cabinet, wanting to ferret out what may seem to them a "treasure". Nearly 75% of all poisonings in children are due to household chemicals and medicines. The figure could be similar or higher for pet primates. It's best to use child-proof bottles around monkeys but not to rely on them. Some monkeys will only be slowed down and can eventually open them, especially if they are alone with them for some time.
POISONOUS HOUSEHOLD CHEMICALS: After reviewing the list, remember that different toxins can effect monkeys in different ways. Symptoms could range from mild upset stomachs to very quick death, depending on the size of the monkey and the quantity ingested. With some substances, it seems that the smell or taste would be a deterrent, but this is not necessarily so. As with human infants and other type of animals, taste preferences don't necessarily parallel ours. Dogs, for example, apparently like the taste of anti-freeze and thousands are poisoned in this way every year. One young capuchin, who knew how to unscrew lids, died from ingesting a very unpleasant substance--household bleach. The Red Cross has this to say about storing and using household chemicals safely: "Never be casual about potentially dangerous household products and never use them in a hurry. Respect them. Read labels, follow instructions exactly and store these substances carefully." Also, these chemicals should not be left out in the same room with a monkey in a moveable cage. Capuchins (genus Cebus) and spider monkeys (genus Ateles) are noted for "walking their cages around the room when they seem to know that no one is home.
Bored monkey hands are just as likely to reach out for chemicals as for toys and treats. Products that are not used as directed may also cause toxic fumes for you and your indoor primate. Remember not to use bleach with ammonia to clean up. This emits highly toxic gases. Remember too, that not all gases have a detectable odor, so it is best not to mix household products and to wipe up spills immediately.
A PRIMATE'S AGILITY: Consider the agility of a monkey and remember that if he leaps and grasps something that is not firmly anchored, it could fall on him and result in injury or death. A near mishap occurred with a bushbaby (Galago demidovii) who landed on a heavy mirror, which was propped against a wall. Bushbabies seem to choose landing sites by their thickness, assuming that everything is firmly planted. Anchoring objects in a room is similar to earthquake proofing a room. Fasten as many things to the wall as you can if you plan to turn your back on even a little five pound capuchin monkey. One white-faced capuchin (Cebus capucinus) used to wedge herself between the wall and the top of a large, heavy cupboard and push! This ingenuity enabled her to tip something far heavier than her size and strength would seem to allow. The cupboard was later monkey-proofed by tying it to the wall with eye-screws and wire.
MONKEY PROOFING A HOUSE: Can an entire house be monkey-proofed? It can be done if one is dedicated and has the cooperation of the others in the family. In doing so, the two most trouble prone rooms are likely to be the kitchen and the bathroom. You may want to keep their doors closed and make them lockable from the inside and the outside. As an alternative to monkey-proofing the whole house, you could choose to monkey-proof one or two rooms, such as the bedroom and the den, so you will have a safe place to share with your monkey. The decision about whether or not to do the entire house--a big job--can be saved for later.
IN CONCLUSION: It is good to be as safety-conscious with our indoor monkeys as we would be with children who are able to leap and jump from the chandeliers. Avoiding mishaps requires fore-thought and trying to see the room or enclosure from the monkey's point of view. Careful planning can save tour monkey's life and prevent the heartache and guilt you would undoubtedly suffer if he or she fell victim to an avoidable accident.....
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