Keeping and Caring for Bush Babies as Pets
The viral videos featuring the undeniably adorable bush baby are infectious. These unique animals possess an astounding jumping ability and large eyes set in a human-like face. Many people see bush babies (with their equally marketable name) and wish to keep them as pets.
What is it like to own a bush baby as a pet? Are they even available in the pet trade?
Facts About Bush Babies or Galagos
- Species: Galago and Otolemur spp. (in the pet trade)
- Lifespan: For lesser bush babies, 3-4 years in the wild and around 10 in captivity . Greater bush babies can live more than 20 years in captivity .
- Size: For lessers, 130mm long on average and 95-300g . Greaters are 297 to 373 mm and 2.20 to 4.41 pounds .
- Diet: Omnivorous: Sap, fruits, insects, seeds, flowers, small birds .
Bush babies, which are also known as galagos, are small to medium-sized nocturnal primates native to the continent of Africa. They are in the family Galagidae and are not monkeys or lemurs. The commonly used name “bush baby” either refers to the crying sounds the animal makes or its wide-eyed appearance.
There are different species of bush baby, and what may be immediately apparent to people who’ve seen them in viral videos is that there are significant differences in size and appearance between certain types.
By far, the bush baby most popular with viewers are those species in the Genus Galago, which are known as lesser bush babies, while the larger ones are more often seen in North America and are in the genus Otolemur (the species is probably Otolemur garnettii), which are known as “greater” bush babies in the United States.
- Greater bush babies eat mostly gums, saps, fruits, and insects .
- Lesser bush babies are more omnivorous, consuming small birds, eggs, insects (preferably grasshoppers), and gum depending on the season .
- Greater bush babies are sexually dimorphic; males are much larger than females .
- The mating systems of most galagos are monogamous or polygynous .
- Bush babies are excellent jumpers. Greater bush babies can leap as far as two meters .
- Greater bush babies are active for 9-12 hours per day .
Bush Babies in the Pet Trade
Bush babies are not popular pets in the United States even relative to other primates. The Senegal bush baby (Galago senegalensis), a lesser bush baby species that is the most popular lorisoid (or nocturnal prosimian) in zoos , are sometimes owned as pets in other countries such as Japan and often in Africa , although keeping native animals is illegal in South Africa .
Possibly kept as pets in the past, the species no longer seems to be present in the United States pet trade as of 2020, but greater bush babies are. It is also now illegal to import primates to the United States for the pet trade.
Lesser and greater bush babies are listed as least concern by the IUCN and the populations of both are considered to have a low risk of being harmed, but greater bush babies may be affected by habitat fragmentation . Both species are well-studied and there is no evidence that they are harmed by the pet trade.
Buying a Bush Baby
In the United States, a greater bush baby generally costs around $4000+ as of 2020. Being less common exotic pets, their price has risen steadily over the years and that trend will most likely continue.
The few breeders who produce bush babies also have about 1-2 young born per birth. In addition to this, bush babies breed once annually .
Along with other primates, bush babies are not legal in the majority of states.
- They are obviously not legal in states like California that have strict bans on most exotic mammals, including ferrets.
- They are also illegal in most Northeastern states like New York, Connecticut, and Maine.
- They are currently legal in North Carolina, Florida (with a Class 3 license), Nevada, and Texas.
They might also be legal in the states listed here. Of course, the only way to find out for sure is to contact your state authorities, as well as the officials for your city, town, and neighborhood. This website cannot guarantee the legality of exotics, as the rules and interpretations of those rules are always shifting.
Bush Baby Husbandry
Unfortunately, there is not a lot of information about keeping bush babies as pets available, and the small amounts that do exist come from anecdotal information by private owners and breeders.
Much of the formal knowledge about captive galagos is held by the Duke Lemur Center of North Carolina, and this facility is adamantly against owning primates as pets and keeps their information restricted to certain zoos.
As with all primates, bigger is better when it comes to housing. Bush babies are relatively small animals, so owners can "get away with" a large macaw cage, compensating for this by allowing plenty of playtime outside of the enclosure.
One breeder prefers a "double macaw cage" (this is the largest wire birdcage on the market) with nest boxes and hammocks . Fill your enclosure with different-sized perches, climbing apparatus, platforms, and swings for variety.
Bush babies can also be housed outdoors in spacious, walk-in aviary type enclosures. These cages should not be able to be opened from the inside as these crafty primates may figure out how to escape, given enough time .
Anecdotally, keepers prefer to feed a varied mix of fresh fruits, vegetables, and commercial primate food. These food items include acacia gum, nectar, live crickets, cat food, seeds, chicks, mice, monkey biscuits, and other primate-specific diets .
Enrichment can come in many forms, from interacting with the pet owner to puzzle feeders during feeding time. There are endless opportunities to make a primate's life more engaging and this should be a priority.
Aside from socialization, the best form of enrichment for bush babies and other primates is to extend the time they spend foraging for food. Food acquisition is the main "job" of wild bush babies, and thus simulating this may prevent boredom and promote psychological welfare .
Living With a Bush Baby
- It is often recommended to not keep primates alone, however unrelated female lesser bush babies have been shown to be aggressive towards each other and that species has been described as "non-gregarious" .
- Male members of the species Otolemur garnettii are usually transient, solitary forgers in the wild, while females may share the same range .
- One breeder suggests that bush babies will benefit from a cage mate .
- Bush babies, being nocturnal, will be very active at night, including making loud vocalizations .
- Bush babies have rabbit-sized pelleted droppings .
- One of the most notable behaviors of all bush babies is that they engage in urine washing, which involves urinating on their hands and feet so they can scent mark their environment . The odor of their urine has been described as "pungent" by one owner  and "not very strong" by another . Those who find this trait unappealing should seek a different pet.
Like all animals with teeth, bush babies are capable of biting. However, they do not have claws . One breeder suggests bush babies have a mellow personality and are unlikely to bite , while another has stated they've been bitten through their finger .
Individual accounts of bush baby care differ and therefore prospective owners should be willing to anticipate any variation of what may be in store. This means a willingness to adapt to the bush baby on an as-needed basis, including enclosure expansion, acquiring a playmate (and having the ability to separate the two if they don't get along), etc.
Given the little information available about bush babies and the fact that all primates are considered to be high maintenance animals, these exotic pets should be considered by only experienced private owners.
- Ballenger, L. 2001. "Galago senegalensis" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed September 19, 2020 at https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Galago_senegalensis/
- Centre for Animal Rehabilitation and Education. Bush Babies.
- Duncan, Ashley. Bush Baby. jandaexotics.com/
- Kessler, Sharon E., and Leanne T. Nash. "Grandmothering in Galago senegalensis braccatus (Senegal Galago)." African primates. 7.1 (2010): 42-49.
- Lundrigan, B. and J. Harris 2000. "Otolemur crassicaudatus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed September 19, 2020 at https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Otolemur_crassicaudatus/
- McCann, Colleen, et al. "IPS International guidelines for the acquisition, care and breeding of nonhuman primates." International Primatological Society. Available at h ttp://www. internationalprimatologicalsociety. o rg/docs/IPS International Guidelines for the Acquisition Care and Breeding of Nonhuman Primates Second Edition (2007).
- Mommens, Johan. Senegal or Lesser bush baby. 1998
- Pollock, Jonathan I. "The management of prosimians in captivity for conservation and research." Primates. Springer, New York, NY, 1986. 269-288.
- Tao, R. 2006. "Otolemur garnettii" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed September 22, 2020 at https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Otolemur_garnettii/
- Primate Care Sheets- Bushbabies. Primate Care The Complete Guide on Primate Ownership.
- Walker, Ken. Bush Baby Care sheet.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2020 Melissa A Smith
Bhavesh Shah from Mumbai on September 24, 2020:
I think bush babies should not be owned as a pet unless you have a garden of your own. These primates could be a real pain when brought inside the concrete.