Two Laconia residents face a fine and the loss of their pet Patas monkey, Bella, after the animal was seized by New Hampshire Fish and Game officials.
The monkey, in turn, has undergone an ordeal. One local expert compared Bella’s experience of being removed from the home to the feeling of a child abducted from its parents.
Conservation officers took the primate from the home of Burnie Johnson, 51, and Penny Dessalines, 47, at about 4:30 p.m. Monday after an informant reported it living there.
Fish and Game conservation officer Chris Brison described the process of removing Bella as “not fun.”
“It was absolutely devastating for the family,” Brison said. He noted that the monkey, which is native to a number of countries in Africa, had been living with Johnson and Dessalines for at least several years.
“We’ve had documentation of them having it in 2014, being bottle-fed,” Brison said. He said it appeared to be obtained out of state, and during the seizure Monday, he saw the animal’s enclosure in the house.
Brison said Bella would be let out to play with the family, which included children and a dog. He didn’t think the monkey spent much time out of the home – otherwise Fish and Game might have heard more complaints.
Monkeys are among many animals Granite Staters are not allowed to own without a special permit. Johnson and Dessalines had no such permit and were charged with a violation-level offense, which carries a fine of up to $1,000.
Attempts to reach the family were unsuccessful Tuesday.
Brison couldn’t comment on the health of the monkey without any sort of primate expertise. (He had to call an expert in African biology to confirm the species).
On a basic level, Bella looked to be in “good shape,” Brison said, though he added that it was not living in ideal conditions.
“Any wild animal is not supposed to be in a house,” he said.
The monkey was transported to a veterinarian Monday for blood tests, and after that, it went to a wildlife rehabilitator.
“It’s in good hands,” Brison said. He declined to specify the rehabilitator for safety reasons – so that Bella and the facility can be left alone by the public – but said the care for the monkey is being provided free of charge.
In the meantime, Fish and Game is now searching for a place for Bella to live permanently.
“Everyone is concerned finding this thing a safe and legal home ... which is most likely a zoo,” Brison said.
Only exhibitors – people training, showing or displaying wildlife who have a federal permit to do so – are allowed a permit to possess a monkey in New Hampshire.
Derek Small, the director of Wildlife Encounters in Rochester, is one such federally permitted exhibitor. He said he hadn’t been contacted Tuesday about Bella and couldn’t accept a primate until his organization upgrades to a larger facility in the near future. But Small knew what he would do with a Patas monkey.
“Everything it has experienced has been as scary as a child abduction in our society,” Small said. “I would put this animal in a relatively small, quiet, calm place,” and offer it food and water.
Patas monkeys have a “very strong social culture” and usually live in groups, Small added, so being alone after leaving home would likely make a monkey like Bella feel vulnerable and scared. As soon as possible, he said he would try to find a new home where it could live in a large space with other monkeys.
“They’re very, very advanced, intelligent animals,” Small said.
He noted that, recently, there seems to be a spike in illegally owned exotic wildlife in New Hampshire, which is usually rare. Since Christmas, Wildlife Encounters has taken in four American alligators and one fox.
“And then there’s this monkey,” Small said. “A monkey is not a pet. A wild animal is not a pet.”
(Elodie Reed can be reached at 369-3306, email@example.com or on Twitter @elodie_reed.)