RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — When two police officers tore little Chico from the arms of Elizete Carmona, they said it was for his own good. After all, 71-year-old women aren't meant to live with endangered tufted capuchin monkeys.
But the case has upset many in Brazil, and thousands of people have signed an online petition calling on Sao Paulo state environmental officials to return Chico to the only home he's known for the past 37 years.
It's illegal to keep wild animals as pets in Brazil, especially those classified as endangered on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature's Red List of threatened species, as the tufted capuchin monkey has been.
But the Carmona family contends Chico is completely domesticated and might not survive the stress of separation.
When the officers came to their house in the city of San Carlos on Saturday, Chico grabbed onto Carmona and hugged her tight, one of the woman's sons, Everaldo Furlan, told the Globo television network.
Carmona said she was devastated when he was pulled away.
"I don't know if I will be able to bear it," she told Globo. "For me, I've lost a son. They've taken my son away."
Multiple calls to Sao Paulo's environmental police went unanswered on Monday and officials at the Sao Carlos City Hall said they were unable to comment on the case. There was no listing for a Carmona family phone.
The Carmonas adopted Chico in 1976, decades before a 1998 law that banned the acquisition and possession of wild animals.
Chico was brought from central Brazil by a truck driver, who gave it away after the monkey bit one of his children.
"The father wanted to kill the monkey. His wife intervened and because she liked me, she ended up giving him to me," Carmona told Globo earlier this year. "I started taking care of him. He never once bit me."
The cat-sized monkey, with expressive, honey-colored eyes, golden fur and a black Mohawk atop his head, liked to spend most of his waking hours outside in the yard he shared with a pet cat and chicken, relaxing beneath a shady tree or atop a little plywood monkey house.
Saturday's removal followed warning letters from state and federal authorities dating back 20 years, Globo's G1 internet portal quotes Carmona as saying, though the family insisted it had been issued special permission to keep Chico.
While the life expectancy of capuchin monkeys is around 15 years in the wild, in captivity they have been known to live three times as long. Chico's exact age is not known, but he must be at least 37.
Globo said Chico was been taken to an animal protection area around 185 miles (300 kilometers) from the family home in Sao Carlos.
The Carmona family still holds out hope of getting Chico back. More than 4,000 people have signed a petition on the website "Peticao Publica" calling on the environmental police to return Chico according to G1.
The website later reported that a veterinary exam at the animal protection center where the monkey is being kept found that Chico is a female, not a male. The animal has been renamed Carla and was said to be glad to be rid of her collar and leash and adapting well to her new environment.
The report cites the head of the center as saying the monkey suffered from lesions caused by the collar and atrophied feet from being kept on too short a leash. Due to her advanced age, she will likely not be reintroduced to the wild, but will be kept in an enclosure with other monkeys.