Merck Manual

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Professional Version

Nonhuman Primates


Terri Parrott

, DVM, St. Charles Veterinary Hospital

Reviewed/Revised Jan 2020 | Modified Oct 2022
Topic Resources

This overview presents a working knowledge of the common families of nonhuman primates maintained in captivity. More species than ever are now promulgated and maintained in captivity. Prosimians such as Lemur catta (ring-tailed lemur) and New World monkeys such as Cebus albifrons (white-fronted capuchin) are commonly encountered in zoological and private practice.

The nonhuman primate species most widely used in research include:

  • macaques

    • Macaca mulatta (rhesus monkey)

    • M fascicularis (cynomolgus monkey)

    • M nemestrina (pig-tailed monkey)

  • some African species

    • Chlorocebus aethiops (African green monkey, vervet monkey)

    • Papio spp (baboons)

  • some South American species

    • Saimiri sciureus (squirrel monkey)

    • Aotus trivirgatus (owl monkey)

Saguinus spp (marmosets) and Callithrix spp (tamarins, marmosets), also of South American origin, have had more limited use in research but are common in the pet trade.

Increased restrictions on exportation or reduced availability of nonhuman primates from countries of origin have led to decreased importation. Importation of nonhuman primates into the USA is prohibited except for scientific, educational, and exhibition purposes.

Nonhuman primates are natural hosts for a variety of infectious agents, many of which are zoonotic, and are also susceptible to many human infectious diseases, such as measles and tuberculosis. Consequently, newly acquired nonhuman primates should be quarantined for 1–3 months before research use or introduction into established colonies, to permit adequate evaluation of their health status and to allow adaptation to the laboratory or zoo environment.

The basic principle of quarantine is to completely isolate each group of animals and not mix animals from different shipments or sources without restarting the quarantine period. Nonhuman primates imported into the USA must undergo a 31-day minimum primary import quarantine in a facility registered with the CDC. Imported animals that die or become severely ill and require euthanasia during this quarantine period must be necropsied and the deaths reported to the CDC, Division of Quarantine.

In clinical, research, and zoological institutions, any new nonhuman primate should be tested for tuberculosis, with a routine fecal examination performed at the same time. Depending on the species, routine tests such as those for cytomegalovirus, herpes simiae, and herpes simplex (1, 2, etc) also can be run at this time. ( See table: Viral Diseases of Nonhuman Primates Viral Diseases of Nonhuman Primates A number of herpesviruses affect nonhuman primates; many exist as latent or subclinical infections in reservoir hosts but cause severe disease or death when transmitted naturally to other hosts... read more .)


Many of the nonhuman primates seen in clinical practice are infants and are immunocompromised; personal protective equipment should be worn at all times while handling and during examinations. These animals are highly susceptible to common cold and influenza viruses as well as streptococcal infections and should be isolated from people with upper respiratory signs.

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