You’ve probably seen the viral video of a monkey getting a haircut or the incredible Photoshop memes that it has spawned. And you probably thought: Wow, what a chill-ass monkey. I wish I could be as chill as that monkey who’s getting what looks like a pretty chill haircut.
After all, what could be bad about this cute, little dude getting a haircut from a careful, well-dressed barber?
Though at first glance it might seem like communal grooming is quite natural — even soothing — for a monkey, that is unfortunately not what’s happening here. Primate researcher Stuart Watson, psychology and neuroscience Ph.D. candidate at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, tells Inverse that this monkey is probably not living a good monkey life.
“This isn’t a normal or acceptable situation for any monkey to be in,” Watson says.
“Without further context, I couldn’t say whether it appears calm because it has been drugged, because it has been punished for resisting in the past, or because being combed feels a bit like being groomed. There is also no way of knowing what kind of restraints might be in place beneath the cloth.”
For anyone who saw this video and found it cute, this is surely a disappointing response. But it shouldn’t be surprising: Watson points out that popular culture depictions of non-human primate pets paint an unrealistically rosy picture of monkey friends. The reality is that monkeys and chimps will not thrive under the average human’s care. (That includes you, Justin Bieber.)
“When in captivity, it takes a team of well-qualified care-staff and resources found at good zoos to provide the necessary physical and psychological conditions for these highly intelligent, highly social animals to live healthy lives,” says Watson. He points out that even if the haircut makes this monkey appear well-cared-for, it’s still probably not living a life that is good for it.
“The monkey is clearly being kept as a pet and this is, therefore, a short episode in a lifetime of abuse,” says Watson.
While you’re not wrong for enjoying the video — it seems genuinely, convincingly sweet — it’s important to recognize the connection between viral videos like this one and increases in illegal animal trafficking. In 2013, researchers behind a PLoS One study analyzed comments and associated data on a YouTube video of a slow loris (a very cute primate) and found that videos of cute primates that exclude information about conservation statuses do a disservice to the animals.
“Slow loris videos that have gone viral have introduced these primates to a large cross-section of society that would not normally come into contact with them,” they wrote.
Hopefully, monkeys will not meet the same fate.
While you may not have considered getting a monkey as a pet before, this adorable video of a monkey getting a haircut might have convinced you that it’s a good idea. Just remember that it’s not.
“Most people who enjoy these videos do so out of a sincere love of animals and are shocked when they find out the reality and consequences of what is depicted,” says Watson. “It’s important to educate people (without judgment) whenever possible.”