Monkey Business

A look back at an investigation that exposed the illicit trade in pet monkeys.
12:22 | 10/21/11

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Transcript for Monkey Business
The global trade in exotic animals is a booming multibillion. Dollar business. Build around the many Americans who want to purchase wild creatures -- household pets. We first examined the growing number of pet monkeys in 1999. For 20/20 here and ABC news. Four month undercover investigation revealed that -- one of monkeys often from the country's most prestigious research -- in zoos. Cast off into the hands of dealers who offer to sell in this pets -- thousands of dollars. It might -- cute and cuddly. These monkeys were also known to carry a disease fatal to humans. Now we wanted to money ever since I was a little girl and her and have a love them. Just like him in the debate. Dressed up. They're made in tune. People think of them as babies -- fur coats and and anything but. Richard fair -- not loves and imports but what He doesn't. As a former zoo curator and now working for the Humane Society of the United States is what He says is going on in the monkey -- Business of -- Booming business at 20/20 54 month undercover investigation you like it better for males at its best -- -- With potentially infected but often black out of the country's research -- that -- ending up in the hands of this and in Tennessee who offer them as pets for thousands of dollars deposits from our problem. With scant attention paid to health risks and few laws to stop them. Every time you touch that and I'll take -- -- leash whole monkey and showing the kid next door. This is dangerous stuff whether it's physical injury when there's disease -- Yet they are often advertised his diaper wearing and bottle fed. Perfect for couples who want a new date is part of our family he's not really -- and smiling like trial. Including incredibly. Species of monkey known as the in the cap like the -- All possible during a fast moving and usually fatal virus called herpes B. It is the very kind of that led to the death two years ago but 22 year old researcher at Emory University. Beth Griffin who died just six weeks after she was splashed in the EI with body fluid from a maccast. In research that particularly since -- Griffin's death. Anyone getting anywhere near mechanics trained to -- -- extensive protective clothing. -- she treat all the -- is if they were herpes B positive. And of those precautions have been -- of has that thrown by -- owners and floor. People were kissing sharing drinks with them. These pet owners say they're the cats have tested virus free but experts -- the virus can appear at any time even in monkeys once tested virus pre. No matter what how you treat them they'll always charge you for affection -- It's something I guess every human wants to have throughout her entire life. To date there have been 29 known deaths from the -- and herpes -- all involving laboratory -- and scientists at the Centers for Disease Control say. The growing trade in mechanics as pets in the last few years constitutes an emerging public health threat. The tax actually are the most common monkey that sold in Arizona. And probably throughout the United States they're very commonly bred and sold in the path train. Doctor -- Leslie state centenary and in Arizona. The spent the last three years pushing for a law to get pet monkeys banned altogether because of so many close call it's. There all kinds of different public locations where people have been bitten busy shopping on Christmas. -- health class and I can't -- Almost half of the victims -- children. Most recent eight year old Ashley Poole didn't this summer by a pig -- pet owner -- to a popular state campground. We -- looking for a crime that. You know they can -- around the conform. -- for an unarmed full -- on Lincoln just. Word Ashley's parents Karen and -- our first thought of Brady's. But what the state that told them was much worse. She had told me how about the herpes -- lives. And down she told me that there was a 7% mortality rate in my heart. The bolanos were lucky. Monkey that bit -- wasn't shedding the herpes B virus on that particular day has often -- -- but it was terrible two weeks before their daughter tested virus free. And I want veterinary -- and -- now lost five pounds in two days mr. us. There is horrible. And the same horrible -- has just ended for another set of parents in Evansville Indiana. We're last month the child visiting the zoo stuck his hand in -- -- and was bitten by one of six mechanics. The Monkees since placed in a cage with a plexiglass shield all tested positive for herpes B although the child has not. When you have a disease that in fact. Fatal. You just don't mess around. And doctor Leslie says the concern goes far beyond just from the cats and the herpes B virus. That virtually all monkeys pose a serious health risk. There are pox viruses. Herpes viruses. Salmon -- lots of parasitic diseases. Hepatitis. Tuberculosis. They're not all kinds of diseases and a much longer list than with any other and want. This woman has been trying to keep secret that an exotic -- A spider monkey bit her a spot started coming up right after she had symptoms that are doctors in a small midwestern -- cannot diagnose. Repeated out something that appears to be but is not. That electrifies the -- and that flash and they have to drain on that out. All from one -- We see animals there that we never -- before. And according to Richard -- and -- of the humane society. The trade in exotic monkeys is being fueled by the country's Jews and university research senators whose surplus monkeys. Ended up in the hands of unscrupulous dealers and brokers. You work continues. Did you see this first -- -- get hurt. You did it when we had too many analysts -- excess males wouldn't get along we have pledged to move my position. So up into an animal -- and in most cases where it's gone and is in the -- You point your finger. Right at this news that -- You have to. There's no other way that these -- -- Federal authorities say animals have come from some of the most prestigious Jews and university. Including Tulane university and Louisiana. To England import an institution to land said they wanted these animals to land so they were used these animals in need these. Simple ownership responsibility. Two lanes as it -- its monkeys are going to a private zoos and wildlife preserve -- the -- But going undercover -- -- when He tracked some of the monkeys to the small town of Lebanon Tennessee. And something called worldwide sonics wildlife says. Run by -- convicted felt this team would provide a fascinating inside to call them lucky break work. The -- east and Tulane -- called white -- -- Agreed that can carry a monkey virus similar to HIV. Something of great concern to public health officials. Thank -- are so there's only one in an accredited zoo and all of North America. All of us at least nine of these -- right here speech. Not an -- from -- are very corners. In a cage in the rear of -- and proper. We could actually see the identifying -- two -- researchers had put on one of the -- number L 688. That matched up with documents obtained by 20/20. An official roster of some 159. Goodies including -- 688. All imported by tonight from after. -- a special exemption allowing endangered monkeys to be used only for research projects. -- now after moving from one dealer to another their offspring are for sale in Tennessee. -- 4500. Dollars him and the only law against it doesn't involve health risks but the -- that the monkeys are an endangered species that problem is that. You know and it felt my audience -- It's illegal to sell -- endangered monkey across state lines but when a 20/20 producer. And treat and handle it correctly. Predicted that she'd lived in the would be taking the month activity. Holder told us on the way for us to acquire -- -- He called Nikita. But only after making sure his visitors were not at -- -- Neither wanted to -- Are affiliated with any law enforcement agency anywhere -- You don't work for the feds. You're not under cover -- well let me. And you just want a pet -- Okay. -- -- got a donation thing on Nikita. Salinger has set up his monkey business as a nonprofit corporation and said He would call the transaction with Nikita a donation. He said are 500 dollar down payment for the so called the nation was not -- tests as slow down or there. Oakland jury accepted He would not touch it exciting in deep to the federal law on endangered them. If this thing called the Lacey act makes it if you violate the Lacey act is just point blank you're in the penitentiary it's also done. They don't screw with you that come -- you you go to jail and you live there. Having said that Fallujah then described how to make it appear that our transaction was not -- -- That just a donation between friends. You and I have known each other for years. We're good friends and you've been thinking about getting -- everything you know me and and I think you deserve something like. You're dealing with an animal that very highly endangered. Do you -- Richard fair or not will be humane society says none of this would be happening. If -- -- and other -- legends of nature who they were dealing with. Before -- over there are rare and potentially dangerous. They went out the door. Of the facility that it imported them that knew what they had. A rare breed of monkey. And they simply disposed of and now -- animals are out in the trade perfect directed him. Officials at two -- declined to appear in this report but in a brief statement to 20/20. Two lane said it had followed all federal and state law. He never did complete -- deal for the look forfeiting our deposit. And when we went back to Tennessee to -- deep knowledge of the island -- -- declined to talk with us being. I'll show you tape of that. -- -- I want to talk to -- -- Fallujah later called the police to order -- off the property. And then held us with rocks and attempted to take pictures over the. They're gonna hurt somebody. -- goal for those individuals have taken after. And there's nothing to stop them it's almost that we have to reach a threshold. Of injury disease death of humans. As -- of them suffer. Before somebody -- -- as we need to do something that's. Since our report first there are many states have moved to -- the ownership of monkeys and other primaries. But at least twenty states still allow the practice. Including Ohio where at least one month even as Angel -- -- escaped but is now unaccounted for.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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