Instagram pet owners using primates for pay

Instagram pet owners using primates for pay

We have a big #jeer today for all of the Instagram accounts who are exploiting exotic animals for a quick paycheck.

A recent segment on CBS Sunday Morning highlighted the recent rise in Instagram accounts featuring animals, including exotic species being kept as pets who are being monetized by their owners as influencers.

One popular example has been an account run by Miami natives Gabriella Katia and her boyfriend Matt Crown who post pictures of their two tamarin monkeys named Diddy Kong and Yeti Kong with sponsored products in the background.

Just this month, the Miami monkeys became paid sponsors for Two Hats Beer. 

“We had no idea they were going to become so famous,” Katia told CBS. “And it’s exciting — I mean, we’ve never seen a famous monkey like this on Instagram!”

But this kind of fame does not benefit exotic animals. The more these animals are peddled as influencers, the more it will spur the exotic pet trade. There are already comments on the CBS story from people asking how they can purchase monkeys and other animals and dozens of similar comments appear on every picture posted by Instagram accounts featuring exotic pets.

We’re dismayed to see this industry taking off especially since we are aware of the extreme dangers that stem from treating exotic animals as forms of entertainment. Primarily Primates, our Texas-based animal sanctuary, is home to hundreds of rescued animals, including many primates who have been used and abused by both the entertainment and pet industries alike.

“Chimps belong with other chimps, not living as if they were nearly human among humans who are making a buck off of them,’’ said Brooke Chavez, director of PPI.

What the CBS story didn’t mention is that many owners end up surrendering exotic animals as they get older and are harder to handle, and the animals who are showing behavior issues could be put to sleep if a sanctuary isn’t found for them. (Read FoA’s letter to CBS Sunday Morning about its segment here.)

The influence peddling of exotic animals is also being spurred on by individuals who are seizing on what they see as a commercial opportunity. Lori Edwards, a graduate of Cornell University and Harvard Law School, saw the perfect chance to get a slice of this money pie and created The Dog Agency, a talent agency that helps pet owners lineup the perfect sponsorships with businesses in return for featuring their products in the Instagram pics they post of their pets.

“Just ballpark numbers, influencers with millions of followers are getting around $10,000 to $15,000 per piece of sponsored content,” Edwards told CBS. “Some campaigns have many pieces of sponsored content.”

Even though the harm may not be overtly physical, they endure psychological trauma.

“Every young primate you see in any type of entertainment was pulled from its mother prematurely. Sometimes primates (in the wild) stay with their families their entire lives,” says Chavez.

Oftentimes, for the primates at PPI, the long term damage that is done results in negative and neurotic behaviors and an inability to socially interact with other animals.

The bottom line is that these Instagram accounts that are featuring exotic pets are sending the wrong message to the world. It’s never ok to keep a primate or other wild animal as a pet — and it’s even worse to make some extra cash off of them.

Read FoA’s letter to The Dog Agency about its promotions here.