Owning spider monkeys and other exotic pets is illegal in Mexico, but many wealthy citizens continue to acquire them. Los Angeles Times foreign correspondent Kate Linthicum joined host Lisa McRee on “LA Times Today” to explain why the trend is so popular. 

The rise in exotic pet ownership in Mexico and South America can be traced back to drug cartels. 

“It goes back to Pablo Escobar in Colombia, who famously had a private zoo,” Linthicum said. “After his death, his hippos escaped the zoo and now are still plaguing the area. So there’s a long, long track record of powerful drug traffickers who want animals to kind of match their power.”

Roy Quintero works as a veterinarian for the exotic pets in northern Mexico. Linthicum explained his work. 

“He is one of the only veterinarians who are skilled and trained to treat exotic animals,” said Linthicum. “So he’s a busy guy in Sinaloa, which is one of the wealthiest parts of Mexico, and of course, famously, home to the Sinaloa cartel. So you have a lot of drug money there as well. Roy has had some crazy experiences. He talks about treating a spider monkey that had overdosed on fentanyl. And he’s, frankly, a little, a little on the fence about it morally. He doesn’t think exotic animals should be kept by humans in most cases, but he also feels obligated to help these animals that need medical care.”

Linthicum noted that many exotic animals get abandoned once they mature, as owners realize how hard they are to care for, and how wild they truly are. She explained why people get these animals in the first place.

“I think it signals wealth, a culture that is very sensitive to that, where it’s very aspirational and where people want to show kind of ostentatious displays of their own wealth and power,” she said. “The men tend to go for the big cats. They like lions and tigers. The women love spider monkeys for pets. So you have all these women in the capital of Sinaloa who have spider monkeys, and they give them these massive parties.”

While the keeping of spider monkeys as pets is illegal in Mexico, Linthicum explained that the laws are not well enforced. 

“Mexico’s president is known for his austerity, and he has cut a lot of government agencies,” she said. “That includes the agencies who are tasked with enforcing these rules. So you don’t have a lot of people making sure that these animals are being treated right.”

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