You and the USDA

YOU and the USDA


There is a great deal of confusion and misinformation in the primate community regarding the role of the USDA in regulating primate owners. We’ve all heard tales of strict rules and regulations, and that monkeys can be confiscated by USDA. These stories have struck fear in our hearts.  As with most things, we tend to fear what we do not understand.  So let’s take a look at the USDA and see what all the fuss is about….




The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) administers the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) through the Animal Care (AC) program. Congress passed AWA in 1966 due to a concern for the wellbeing of animals that are bred, sold, used in research, or transported commercially. Exhibitors were incorporated into the AWA in the 1970 revisions. Individuals involved in these activities are required by federal law to be licensed by the USDA-APHIS Animal Care program. The program exists to ensure the welfare of animals. 


A copy of the Animal Welfare Act and Animal Welfare Regulations can be obtained by contacting the USDA-APHIS Animal Care program.  The AWA and AWA regulations may also be viewed on the APHIS website at  A printed copy is provided in the USDA license application packet.  Prior to making application for a license, the applicant should read the Animal Welfare Act and Animal Welfare Regulations carefully to familiarize themselves with the minimum standards of care required by the AWA. 




Anyone who is involved in breeding, selling, brokering, transporting or exhibiting a monkey must have a federal USDA license or registration.  Many primate owners do not realize that some of the activities they routinely engage in may be subject to federal regulation.  Driving a monkey to its new home is officially “transporting” if any compensation is collected for the service.  The individual performing the service is required to hold a USDA registration as a Carrier (or aUSDA Class B license).  Likewise, any individual who helps another person purchase a monkey and receives a fee from either the seller or the buyer, is officially a “broker” and must have a Class B license.   And what about that little Girl Scout troop that your granddaughter brought over to see the monkeys last month?  Yes, that’s right; that was exhibiting, even if no fee was charged or payment was received.  Activities such as these, in the very least, qualify us to be eligible for USDA licensing, but could also subject us to fines or prosecution by USDA for conducting them without a license. 




An individual or a facility may apply for and obtain one ofthree licenses through this program. 


  • Class A (Breeders) license is for breeders who sell the offspring of the monkeys in their care.  License holders may occasionally acquire animals for breeding stock and sell breeders as surplus.
  • Class B (Dealers) license is for those who buy or trade animals for the purpose of reselling them.  This would apply to brokers or auction operators who facilitate the sale and transportation of animals. This would also apply to an individual who sells their own monkeys that they purchased as pets. Class B Dealers may also exhibit as a minor part of the license.
  • Class C (Exhibitors) license is for those who show or display animals to the public.  The holder of this license is also allowed to buy and sell animals for the purpose of acquiring animals to exhibit. 


The USDA divides the country into two regions for the purposes of administrating the APHIS-AC program.


            Western Region                                               Eastern Region

            USDA-APHIS-Animal Care                                USDA-APHIS-Animal Care

            2150 Centre Avenue                                          920 Main Campus Drive, Suite 200

            Building B, Mailstop #3W11                               Raleigh, NC 27606

            Fort Collins, CO 80526-8117                             Phone: (919)716-5696

            Phone: (970)494-7478                                       Fax: (919) 716-5696

            Fax: (970) 472-9558                                          E-mail:





The application process begins by contacting one of the above offices and requesting an application packet.  A packet may also be requested via the web at The applicant is assigned a customer number, and a packet of information is mailed out to them. The packet contains the application form along with instructions for completing the application, a copy of the Animal Welfare Act and Animal Welfare Regulations, as well as factsheets that explain various aspects of the application and inspection processes. Once completed, the application form along with the $10 application fee is mailed to the appropriate regional office, shown in the diagram above.  Soon the applicant will receive a letter from the regional office with their inspector’s name as well as a Plan of Veterinary Care (PVC) form, and instructions for completing it.  The applicant can then expect a call from the inspector within a few days to schedule the pre-licensing inspection.





APHIS requires the owner of each licensed facility to establish a formal Program of Veterinary Care (PVC). A form is provided for this purpose.  The PVC addresses such issues as primate enrichment, vaccinations, parasite control, testing procedures, emergency care access, diet, species-specific behaviors, and others. A licensed veterinarian must review the facility’s veterinary care program at least once a year, including an onsite inspection to determine the general health of the animals and appearance of the facility.  This veterinarian is referred to as the Attending Veterinarian (AV). The Attending Veterinarian can be any licensed veterinarian of the applicant’s choosing who understands the requirements of the APHIS program. The AV works with the owner to establish an appropriate Program of Veterinary Care prior to licensing, and is required to review and sign the PVC annually to verify that the care and treatment that is specified in the PVC is being provided for the animal.  The owner is not required to utilize the services of the attending veterinary exclusively, and may obtain veterinary services from any source of the owner’s choosing; however, copies of the records must be provided to the attending veterinarian for their review. 




USDA personnel conduct unannounced inspections of every licensed facility in the country.  When inspecting a facility, USDA inspectors carefully observe and document all areas of care and treatment covered by the AWA.  These include the following:


  • Housing – Must be structurally sound and in good repair, protect the animals from other animals and extreme weather conditions, and provide adequate drainage. 
  • Ventilation – Animals must be provided with cooling measures if temperatures rise above 85 degrees, and with heat if temperatures fall below 45 degrees.  However, nonhuman primates in nature are found in a wide range of ambient temperatures.   The temperature of the housing facility should be maintained in accordance with accepted professional practices for the species held.
  • Lighting – Facilities must be lit well enough to provide access for feeding, cleaning and inspection.
  • Interior Surfaces – Must be easily cleaned and sanitized.
  • Sanitation – Waste must be removed and disposed of regularly.  Cages should be spot-cleaned daily and sanitized at least once every 2 weeks.  There are special cleaning provisions in the AWARs for scent-marking species.
  • Pest Control – Measures must be taken to prevent infestation by insects, rodents, or other vermin.
  • Food and Water – Animals must be supplied with nutritious food served from a clean receptacle.  Water must be provided twice daily for one hour, if not all the time.
  • Outdoor Shelter – Animals must be protected from direct sunlight, rain and extreme temperatures.
  • Compatibility – Animals may be housed only with compatible cage mates.
  • Recordkeeping – Accurate and complete records must be maintained of acquisition and disposition of animals, and each animal must be properly identified. 
  • Adequate Veterinary Care – Programs of disease control and prevention, euthanasia and veterinary supervision must be established and maintained.
  • Handling – Animals must be properly handled at all times.
  • Transportation- Animals must be provided with adequate space, ventilation and proper shipping/travel containers when transported. 


The licensee must give the USDA inspector full access to all areas where animals are kept.  The inspector will note any and all deficiencies and explain these to the owner.  The inspector will then give the owner a time frame in which the deficiencies must be corrected.  The inspector will return to re-inspect the facility to determine whether or not the deficiency has been corrected. If the facility continues to be noncompliant after the inspector has given ample opportunities to correct deficiencies, or if the health and welfare of the animals is in jeopardy, the inspector will refer the case for legal action, which may result in fines or confiscation of animals belonging to that facility or individual. 


On the day of the first inspection, or pre-licensing inspection, the applicant will meet their APHIS inspector for the first time. This inspection will be scheduled by the inspector. At this initial meeting, the groundwork will be laid for a good working relationship. The applicant can facilitate this by being flexible and compliant regarding the scheduling of the inspection, as well as being courteous and helpful.  Rather than approaching the inspection with fear and trepidation, the applicant should consider it to be a good opportunity to “show off” the excellent care they provide for their monkeys, as well as an opportunity to learn from an expert in the field of animal care.  Being open to suggestions and expressing a commitment to comply with AWA regulations will help the applicant get off to a good start with the inspector.


In the event a deficiency is found at the pre-licensing inspection, the inspector will explain the deficiency and what needs to be done to correct it.  The inspector will give the applicant ample time to make the repairs or corrections, and then return for re-inspection.  There is no shame in failing the first inspection.  In fact, many applicants make no modifications to their facility prior to the inspection, opting instead to wait for the inspector to instruct them as to what, if any, elements of their animal care program need to be changed or modified to bring them into compliance with AWA. In this way they eliminate unnecessary expense and effort by addressing only the items of deficiency.  If the applicant does not pass inspection after three attempts, they must wait 90 days and reapply.  Once the applicant passes inspection, all subsequent inspections will be unannounced.  The inspector will collect the annual licensing fee (or the applicant may submit payment to the regional office)and submit their report to APHIS.  The new licensee receives their license by mail in 2-3 weeks. 




The licensing fees for holders of a Class A or Class B license is based on income derived from sales and broker fees and is calculated according to the table below.  Class A dealer (breeders) fees are based upon 50% of their total sales.  Class B dealer (sellers) fees are based on the net profit, or sales price minus the cost of obtaining the animal to sell.  Class B dealers (brokers) fees are based on the fees collected for facilitating the sale of an animal.  For new licensees who have no sales record, the fee is based upon an estimation of the first year’s sales.


Table 1, Class A or Class B Dealer Fees


Income Amount

Initial Fee

Annual Fee

$        0 up to $      500

$  30.00

$  40.00

      500 up to      2,000



    2000 up to    10,000



 10,000 up to    25,000



 25,000 up to    50,000



 50,000 up to  100,000



100,000 and above




The licensing fees for holders of a Class C exhibitors license is based upon the number of animals the licensee has, and is calculated according to the table below.


Table 2, Class C Exhibitor Fees


No. of Animals

License Fee

1 to 5

$  30.00

6 to 25


26 to 50


51 to 500


501 and up





I am only required to have a USDA Exhibitorlicense if I accept payment for exhibiting my monkey.

Exhibiting for compensation of any kind is exhibiting, and requires a USDA license whether the exhibition is done for profit or not.  Regulated activities include placing a primate in or near another business to draw customers, use of live animal “mascots”, and accepting “donations” for seeing the animal. Persons intending to exhibit animals for free should write to the regional office for a determination of whether or not a license will be required, including as much detail in the letter as possible.


If I have a USDA license it doesn’t matter if I am in a banned state or city. The laws don’t apply to me.

Licensees must follow all state and local laws in addition to AWA standards.  The AWA does not supersede State and local authorities or restrict them in any way when the State and local laws are more stringent than the AWA. 


If I am USDA licensed, I cannot surgically alter my monkey for any reason.

USDA licensed exhibitors are not permitted to surgically alter a monkey to make it suitable for exhibition.  However, the owner and attending veterinarian make decisions about the care and treatment of the monkey based upon what is in the animal’s best interest and the established Program of Veterinary Care (PVC). The USDA does not prohibit surgical procedures that are required for the health of the monkey;nor appropriately performed sterilization or implant procedures.


I can take my monkey anywhere I want to if I have a USDA license.

Possession of a USDA license does not entitle you to any special privileges. You cannot take your monkey into any business or venue that prohibits monkeys whether you have a USDA license or not.


The USDA is anti-private ownership and will confiscate my monkey if given the chance.

USDA does not have any authority to confiscate an animal unless the owner is noncompliant with AWA standards and has not made an effort to correct the noncompliance despite multiple warnings.The USDA wants you to comply with AWA regulations so that your monkey is properly cared for by you.


I have a USDA Class C Exhibitor’s license so I can breed, broker and transport monkeys too.


A Class C Exhibitor’s license allows you to legally exhibit your monkey, to buy and sell monkeys for the purpose of obtaining animals to exhibit, and to transport monkeys for those purposes only.  In order to breed monkeys and sell the offspring, as well as transport monkeys in conjunction with a sale, one must have a Class A Breeder’s license. If that person also wanted to buy monkeys for resale, or to broker monkeys, that person would need to obtain a Class B license instead, which permits any regulated activity with the exception of animal research. A person cannot hold a Class A and Class B license at the same time, as the regulated activities permitted under a Class A license are also permitted under a Class B license.


I don’t need a USDA license to exhibit, breed, broker or transport monkeys.  I can do what I want and the USDA will never know.  Besides, what can they do about it?

An integral part of the APHIS-AC program is to seek out and prosecute those who are in violation of AWA regulations and those who are conducting activities regulated under APHIS-AC without a license.  USDA Inspectors often work closely with veterinarians and animal control personnel to identify and locate those individuals.  Penalties for violations may include fines, confiscation of animals, legal prosecution, or any combination of these penalties depending upon the severity of the violation.


I can sell my own personal pet monkey without obtaining a USDA license.

The USDA regulates the sale of all primates.  Selling a primate, even if it is your own personal pet, is unlawful without a USDA license.  If a private pet owner decides for whatever reason they cannot keep their monkey, they may give it away to another suitable caregiver, but they may not sell it or trade it for another animal or other item. The sale of one or two pet monkeys by an individual is sometimes permitted by USDA if the owner requests a one-time exemption in writing from the appropriate regional office of USDA’s Animal Care program.


To obtain a USDA license, an applicant must take classes and have a certain number of hours of hands-on experience.

The USDA-APHIS program does not have any pre-licensing course work or experience requirements. The individual who assumes this may be confusing federal and state requirements.  In some states, such as Florida, the Department of Wildlife or Fish and Game regulates the licensing of exotic animal owners.  In those states, an applicant for USDA licensing must be compliant with both USDA regulations and state regulations.  Licensing by one does not exempt or supersede the other.




The primary, and most important, advantage to being USDA licensed is to be in compliance with U.S. Federal law and free from prosecution for conducting regulated activities without a license.  There may be some incidental legal advantages for some owners, as some of the states that have passed bans have given exemptions to federally licensed exhibits and federally regulated animal businesses, but that may not be the case with states that pass bans in the future.  If the Captive Primate Safety Act were to become federal law, there may be an exemption that allows USDA licensed individuals to conduct business across state lines, but once again this may not be the case and only time will tell how the laws will be written. 


Submitting to USDA inspection and licensing demonstrates responsible ownership by those who are engaged in the activities of breeding, selling, brokering, transporting commercially, or exhibiting monkeys.  Responsible owners who care for their monkeys properly have no reason to fear being licensed by the USDA-APHIS Animal Care program.  You and the USDA have the same goals and objectives – to ensure the welfare of nonhuman primates and give them the best life that you possibly can.




Ray Flynn, DVM, Assistant Director, Western Region, USDA-Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service

Cindy DiGesualdo, DVM, Veterinary Medical Officer, USDA-Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service

Animal Welfare Act and Animal Welfare Regulations, USDA-APHIS, November 2005

APHIS Animal Care Factsheet, The Animal Welfare Act, January 2002

APHIS Animal Care Factsheet, Compliance Inspections, June 2005

APHIS Animal Care Tech Note, Understanding Compliance Inspections, October 2000

APHIS Animal Care Factsheet, Animal Exhibitors, July 2003



Researched, written and submitted by Connie Wehrman and Janice Metzger




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