Spider monkeys are intriguing and intelligent primates that some people consider keeping as exotic pets. If you live in California and are interested in owning a spider monkey, you may be wondering – are spider monkeys legal in California?

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: no, it is illegal to own spider monkeys as pets in California.

In this comprehensive guide, we will cover everything you need to know about the rules and regulations around owning spider monkeys in California. We’ll discuss why they are banned, penalties for owning one illegally, exceptions to the laws, requirements for permitted facilities, and more.

We’ll also compare the laws to other states and talk about some alternatives to owning a spider monkey as a pet.

Spider Monkeys are Illegal to Own as Pets in California

California Restricted Species Laws

California has strict laws regarding the ownership of restricted or exotic animals as pets. As per the California Code of Regulations Title 14, spider monkeys are included in the list of restricted species that cannot be imported, transported, possessed, or released in the state without a permit.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife regulates restricted species to protect public health and safety, agriculture, and native wildlife. Illegal possession of restricted animals may lead to their seizure, fines, and criminal charges.

Reasons for the Ban on Spider Monkeys

There are several good reasons why spider monkeys cannot be kept as pets in California:

  • Spider monkeys are wild animals that retain their natural behaviors and instincts. They can be aggressive and destructive when kept in captivity.
  • Providing proper care and housing for spider monkeys is very difficult and expensive for the average person.
  • Spider monkeys can transmit diseases like herpes B virus that may be lethal to humans.
  • The exotic pet trade has severely impacted wild spider monkey populations due to poaching and habitat loss.

Penalties for Illegal Ownership

According to California regulations, penalties for illegally possessing restricted animals like spider monkeys may include:

  • Immediate seizure of the animal by California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
  • Misdemeanor charges punishable by imprisonment up to 6 months and fines up to $1,000.
  • Felony charges for repeated or serious offenses leading to possible imprisonment.

So in short, spider monkeys don’t make good pets, and it’s best to avoid the legal risks and complications involved in owning one illegally in California.

Limited Exceptions to the Laws

Educational Purposes

There are a few limited cases where keeping spider monkeys may be allowed in California. One exception is for educational institutions like zoos, museums and universities that want to keep spider monkeys for research, conservation, or educational display.

However, these institutions still need to apply for permits from the Department of Fish and Wildlife and meet specific enclosure requirements. The spider monkeys cannot be kept as personal pets even in these cases.

Sanctuaries and Zoos

Accredited zoos and wildlife sanctuaries are exempt from the laws prohibiting possession of spider monkeys in California. For example, reputable places like the San Diego Zoo have permits to care for spider monkeys in natural enclosures as part of species conservation efforts.

These facilities must demonstrate that the animals are provided proper housing, veterinary care, and enrichment. Population numbers are also regulated to prevent overbreeding. While zoos showcase spider monkeys to the public, sanctuaries serve as rescue and rehabilitation sites for monkeys confiscated as illegal pets.

Mitarashi Circus Exception

There is one unusual case where a traveling circus troupe called the Mitarashi Circus was granted special permission to continue featuring spider monkeys in live shows through 2025. This exception was made because the circus had included spider monkey acts for over 50 years.

As part of the deal, they agreed to stop breeding the monkeys and adopt out the animals after retirement. However, animal rights activists have strongly criticized this exception, as they argue spider monkeys still suffer in circus conditions despite the permit.

Most experts agree this is an outdated practice that will likely be prohibited after the exception expires.

Requirements for Facilities That Can House Spider Monkeys

Permits and Licensing

Facilities that wish to house spider monkeys in California must obtain proper permits and licensing from state and federal agencies. This includes obtaining an Exotic Animal Permit from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) and meeting requirements under the Endangered Species Act since spider monkeys are listed as endangered (URS Corp, 2013).

Facilities should work closely with CDFW and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to ensure proper protocols are followed.

Enclosure Size and Environment

Spider monkeys are highly energetic and athletic animals that need ample space to move and swing. According to the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), spider monkey enclosures must have adequate vertical space and horizontal space to allow for brachiation and jumping (AZA, 2022).

Enclosure size recommendations from AZA are:

  • Indoor – no less than 400 ft2 per animal
  • Outdoor – no less than 2000 ft2 per animal

AZA also states enclosures should contain varying diameters of poles, branches, and ropes as well as nesting platforms and ledges to provide complexity and enrichment. Providing an enclosed outdoor area can allow the monkeys to be outside while still meeting safety protocols.

Dietary Needs

In the wild, spider monkeys eat a varied, nutrient-rich diet consisting mostly of ripe fruits, leaves, flowers, nuts, seeds, and occasionally insects or small vertebrates (Di Fiore et al., 2011). Facilities caring for them should develop diets that mimic their wild intake.

Diets should contain high-quality monkey chow or biscuits to ensure complete nutrition along with a daily variety of fresh fruits and vegetables. Additional protein sources such as nuts, legumes, tofu or eggs should be fed several times a week.

Food should also be used creatively to stimulate foraging behaviors.

Enrichment and Socialization

Providing proper mental stimulation and social dynamics for spider monkeys is critical to their health and wellbeing. Spider monkeys are highly social and live in bands of 15-25 individuals in the wild (UICN, 2022).

While this level is difficult to replicate in captivity, facilities should house them in compatible groups to allow species-typical social behaviors. Complex enclosure environments also allow opportunities for foraging, exploration and cognitive challenges.

Additional enrichment like destructible toys, puzzle feeders, and food hiding can prevent boredom and stereotypical behaviors that are problematic in captive primates. Keepers should develop enrichment programs that target sensory, physical and psychological needs with both static and rotating options to keep monkeys engaged.

Veterinary Care

Routine and preventative veterinary care is essential for maintaining spider monkeys. AsPrimates are susceptible to unique infectious diseases, facilities should have screening protocols for pathogens like tuberculosis in place (Gillespie et al., 2005).

Comprehensive physical examinations under anesthesia are needed to closely monitor health since primates are adept at masking illnesses behaviorally. Having an experienced primate veterinary specialist is also critical for appropriate medical and surgical care.

Additionally, enclosures and restraint equipment should allow for safe veterinary procedures when needed. Overall, close veterinary collaboration, preventative medicine programs and emergency protocols are vital for caring for vulnerable endangered species like spider monkeys.

Comparison to Other States

States Where Spider Monkeys Are Legal

Only a handful of states allow private ownership of spider monkeys. This includes Missouri, Nevada, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin. However, even in these states, there are often restrictions on ownership such as permitting requirements.

For example, Nevada requires a permit from the Department of Wildlife to possess dangerous wild animals, which includes spider monkeys.

States with Partial Bans

Some states have partial bans on spider monkey ownership, meaning ownership is allowed under certain circumstances. In Kansas and Pennsylvania, for example, you must obtain a permit or license to own exotic pets like spider monkeys.

Other states may allow ownership only if the animal was acquired prior to the ban being enacted. An example is Tennessee which grandfathered in previously owned primates when it enacted its ban in 1991.

States with Total Bans

Due to public safety and animal welfare concerns, most states have enacted total bans on private ownership of primates like spider monkeys. As of 2024, at least 32 states including California, Texas, Florida, and New York have full prohibitions on keeping spider monkeys and other nonhuman primates as pets.

Some cities and counties have also enacted municipal codes banning or restricting primate ownership.

State Legality of Spider Monkey Ownership
California Totally banned
Texas Totally banned
Missouri Legal with no permit required
Kansas Requires permit
Tennessee Ban enacted in 1991, grandfathered in previously owned primates

As you can see, the majority of states prohibit private ownership of spider monkeys, though a few still allow it with proper permitting and licensing. However, California and Texas both have total bans, making it illegal for private individuals to own spider monkeys within state lines.

For more information on exotic animal laws by state, check out Animal Legal & Historical Center.

Alternatives to Owning a Spider Monkey

Other Pets With Similar Traits

While spider monkeys make engaging pets, they require specialized care and large enclosures that most people cannot properly provide. However, there are some alternatives that share appealing traits with spider monkeys while being more suitable as pets.

Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, for example, are playful, affectionate small dogs that bond closely with their owners. They only require moderate daily exercise and adapt well to apartment living. Some other pets to consider include savannah cats, sugar gliders, rabbits, and certain bird species like cockatoos.

Animal Encounters at Zoos and Sanctuaries

For those seeking spider monkey companionship without the demands of pet ownership, zoos and wildlife sanctuaries offer opportunities for memorable encounters. Many accredited zoos have outreach programs allowing participants to engage with spider monkeys and learn about their behavior from trained staff.

Some sanctuaries also allow visitors to observe rescued spider monkeys living in enriched naturalistic enclosures. While such encounters are supervised for safety, they can provide a profoundly moving experience and inspire increased support for conservation efforts.

Volunteering Opportunities

People with a passion for spider monkeys can become directly involved in their welfare through sanctuary or zoo volunteer programs. Volunteers assist with preparing enriching activities, maintaing enclosures, and even helping provide specialized care to rescued animals.

For those with relevant professional expertise, some facilities recruit volunteers to conduct behavioral or veterinary research aimed at improving spider monkey wellbeing and breeding programs. Volunteering provides rewarding hands-on learning opportunities while making a meaningful difference for these remarkable primates.


In summary, while spider monkeys are amazing animals, California has strict laws prohibiting private ownership. The only exceptions are for approved facilities like zoos and sanctuaries that can meet their complex needs.

While you cannot legally own a pet spider monkey in California, there are ways you can still ethically interact with and help care for these primates. We hope this guide gave you a comprehensive overview of spider monkey regulations in the state.

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