Marmoset kept in a birdcage rescued by California officials. Why marmosets aren’t pets

People keeping tropical animals as pets is a not-uncommon gag in movies and sitcoms, a signature of quirkiness for characters like Ace Ventura and Ross Geller.

But in reality, there are social and biological reasons why dogs and cats are common pets while monkeys — for example — are not.

A marmoset monkey was found in a Southern California home, kept in a birdcage by the owner, according to a Feb. 6 news release from the Oakland Zoo.

Marmosets are squirrel-like monkeys native to the rainforests of South America, according to the Smithsonian‘s National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute. The 2011 movie “Rio” showed an animated depiction of marmosets, but in real life, they have black-brown fur, white faces, and ear tufts that stick out like pigtails.

According to the RSPCA, marmosets are extremely social creatures that live in stable social groups. They are also highly intelligent and get bored easily. For these reasons, combined with their need to be in a tropical environment, keeping a marmoset as a pet and isolated from their community is cruel, not to mention illegal, RSPCA said.

The owner of the seized California marmoset was arrested on charges unrelated to the animal, the Oakland Zoo said. The marmoset was then taken to the zoo’s veterinary hospital for immediate care. They named her Estrela after the star-shaped white spot on her forehead.

Estrela was treated for an injury that vets say she suffered while in the birdcage.

“In all likelihood, this injury is from the animal being housed inappropriately,” said Dr. Ryan Sadler, senior veterinarian at the Oakland Zoo. “The bones had healed but were malaligned, which can impact her movement. She appears to be compensating well, but we continue to watch her mobility closely.”

Estrela will stay at the Oakland Zoo Veterinary Hospital until she is ready to move to her new home at the Wildlife Rescue & Rehabilitation in Texas. Until then, she is being kept occupied with enrichment activities while building trust with those caring for her.

Estrela is not the first animal rescued from the illegal wildlife trade by the Oakland Zoo. In fact, most of the zoo’s residents are rescues in the same way she is. For many years, animals confiscated by officials at the San Francisco International Airport and the Port of Oakland have been brought to the Oakland Zoo for treatment, care and permanent sanctuary.

Darren Minier, director of animal welfare and research at the zoo, warns tropical-animal lovers to take heed. These animals are to be left in their natural habitat and not brought into human homes.

“The best intentions of private owners, while understandable, in no way compensate for the innate needs of the individual animals housed as pets, many of which suffer the effects of chronic stress, malnutrition, and other maladies,” he said.

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