Monkey Business

A look back at an investigation that exposed the illicit trade in pet monkeys.
3:00 | 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 many Americans who want to purchase wild creatures as household pets. We first examined the growing number of pet monkeys in 1999. For 20/20 -- -- an ABC news. Four month undercover investigation revealed that unwanted monkeys often from the country's most prestigious research -- -- -- Cast off into the hands of dealers who offered to sell in this -- -- thousands of dollars. It might -- cute and cuddly. These monkeys were also known to carry a disease fatal to humans. -- always wanted him on the ever since I was a little girl. And -- It's like Canada debate they're dressed up there made -- little. People think of them as babies and fur coats. And anything -- Richard fair or not -- loves and the courts 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 trade. The business of -- Will mean does that 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 labs and that is ending up in the hands of and in Tennessee who offer them as pets for thousands of dollars -- from our problem. It's scant attention paid to health risks and few laws to stopped them. This is dangerous stuff whether it's physical injury when -- disease -- Yet they are often advertised -- diaper wearing and bottle fed. Perfect for couples who want a new tape is part of our family he's not really look at -- smiling like trial. Including incredible. Species of monkey known as -- the cap like the all possible jury is ultra 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 guy with body fluid from a maccast. In research that particularly since -- Griffin's death. Anyone getting anywhere near the caps trained to where extensive protective clothing. She treat all the -- is if they word herpes B positive. -- of those precautions have -- promised that thrown by booking owners and floor. People were kissing sharing drinks but that -- These pet owners say -- -- have tested virus free experts -- the virus can appear at any time even in monkeys once tested virus spree. No matter what how you treat them they always turn -- you -- -- -- It's something I guess every human wants to -- throughout her entire life. To date there have been 29 known -- -- cats and herpes -- all involving laboratory workers and scientists at the Centers for Disease Control say. The growing trade in the cats as pets in the last few years constitutes an emerging public health threat. -- -- 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 in an Arizona. -- spent the last three years pushing for a law to get pet monkeys banned altogether because of so many close -- -- There all kinds of different public locations where people have been bitten busy shopping on Christmas. A health club. Camp -- Almost half of the victims -- children. Most recent eight year old Ashley Poole didn't this summer by a pig -- pet and owner -- to to a popular state campground. -- Looking for -- that. You know they can throw around. And conform. And -- -- -- jumped on the breaking just. Word Ashley's parents Karen and -- -- -- first thought of rabies. But what the state that told them was much worse. She had told me how about the herpes B was. And she told me that there was a 7% mortality rate in my heart. The -- -- were lucky. A monkey that bit Ashley wasn't shedding the herpes B virus on that particular day -- often parents but it wasn't terrible two weeks before their daughter tested pirate spree. And I want to veterinary -- and now lost five pounds in two days mistrust. And it was 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 and a -- and was bitten by one of six -- acts. 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 -- Fatal. You just don't mess around. And doctor Leslie says the concern goes far beyond just the mechanics 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 -- Repeated out. Something that appears to be but is not. -- electrifies the muscle and that flash and they have to drain on that now. All from one -- We see animals -- there that we themselves 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 setters. Who's surplus monkeys -- ended up in the hands of unscrupulous dealers and brokers. You work continues. Did you see this -- and did it for him. You did it when we had too many analysts -- excess males wouldn't go along we had pledged to move my position. So out the door and -- coast and in most cases where it's -- -- -- its entry. You point your finger. Right at this news that is. You have to. There's no other way that these animals would. Federal authorities say animals have come from some of the most prestigious Jews and university. -- including Tulane university and Louisiana. To name of the important institution to land said they wanted these animals to land so they were used these animals who need these. Simple ownership responsible. Two lanes as it -- its monkeys are going to a private zoo and -- wildlife preserve the -- But going undercover when -- when He tracked some of the monkeys to the small town of Lebanon Tennessee. And something called hope worldwide exotic wildlife says. Run by convicted -- this team would provide a fascinating -- to help -- lucky break work. The most east and Tulane -- called white -- -- Agreed that can carry a monkey virus similar to HIV. -- of great concern to public health officials. -- babies are so there's only one in an accredited zoo and all of North America. All of us at least nine of these -- be right here such. United -- from you on her face -- In a cage in the rear of -- -- proper. We could actually see the identifying -- two -- researchers had put on one of the man number L 688. That matched up with documents obtained by 20/20. An official roster of some 159. Goodies including -- 688. All imported by -- from after. A special exemption allowing endangered monkeys to be used alone -- research projects. -- now after moving from one dealer to another their offspring are for sale in Tennessee. Where 4500. Dollars. And the only law against it doesn't involve health risks but that that the monkeys are an endangered species that problem is that you know I need -- -- inspect. It's illegal to sell endangered monkey across state lines but when a 20/20 producer. -- and handle Internet play made it through that she'd lived in the would be taking the -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- But only after making sure his visitors were not at -- -- Neither one -- you. Are affiliated with any law enforcement agency anywhere right. You don't work for the -- You're not under cover it well let me. You just want a pet -- Okay. We don't work -- -- donation thing on Nikita. Challenger 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 -- was not refund cents its slow down or there. Oakland jury accepted He would not touch exciting in -- the federal law on endangered. 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 get you you can go to jail and you live there. Having said that Fallujah then described how to make it appear that our transaction was not a sale. But just a donation between friends. -- -- and I have known each other for years. We're good friends and you've been thinking about getting primates everything you know me and and I think you deserve something like. You're dealing with an animal that very highly endangered. We -- -- fair -- -- will -- humane society says none of this would be happening if Tulane and other research legends of nature of who they were dealing with. Before turning 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 them and now those animals are out in the trade just 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. We never did complete art deal for the -- -- -- deposit. And when we went back to Tennessee to ask deep knowledge of the island -- He declined to talk with being. -- -- -- -- The problem. I want to talk to -- Fallujah later called the police to order resolved the property. And then held us with rocks and attempted to take pictures over the. They're -- hurt somebody. -- goal for those individuals who take effect. And -- nothing to stop them it's almost that we have to reach a threshold. Of injury disease death of humans. -- -- -- -- -- -- Before somebody -- Travis as we need to -- this. Since our report first there -- many states have moved to -- the ownership of monkeys and other primates. But at least twenty states still allow the practice. Including Ohio where at least one -- from the Zanesville farm was escaped but is now unaccounted for. That's all the time we have for today for updates on this story and other breaking daily investigations. This -- abcnews.com. Slash -- it. You can also follow me and the ABC news investigative team FaceBook and -- Thanks for watching. See you back here next week.

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

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