Florida wonders what to do with roaming park monkeys
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — A troop of roaming primates in north-central Florida will nearly double in size if state wildlife managers don’t step in and stop the monkey business, according to new research.
In a study published recently in The Journal of Wildlife Management, researchers found that the number of rhesus macaques at Silver Springs State Park will grow to 350 animals or more by 2022. When the study was conducted in 2015, there were about 175 monkeys in the park, which is about 70 miles northwest of Orlando.
The study will help the state decide what to do with the animals.
In January, wildlife officials expressed a desire to curb or even eliminate the monkey population because of research that showed some of the animals in the park carry the herpes B virus, which could potentially spread to humans. There have been 50 documented human cases worldwide, but no known transmissions to people from the Florida macaques.
Still, the state wants to reduce the potential of human-monkey interaction, which is difficult since people sometimes try to feed the animals or take selfies with them.
“The more monkeys you get out there, the greater probability of interactions with people,” said Steve A. Johnson, a wildlife ecology and conservation professor, and a co-author of the study.
While this kind of monkey is also found in other pockets of Florida, the research looked at two scenarios for the Silver Springs park, which is managed by the state: eliminating the macaques, and sterilizing the adult females.
“The monkeys invoke a lot of human emotion,” said Johnson, adding that it’s far less controversial to propose culling a nonnative species like a python from Florida’s Everglades. “Some people, their opinion is that these animals have a right to be there.”
Monkeys are not native to Florida. Experts say the primates are descended from monkeys intentionally released in the 1930s to increase tourism.
In hindsight, that was a bad idea.
C. Jane Anderson, a professor at Texas A&M University in Kingsville and another co-author of the study, said it’s not just the potential monkey-human danger that needs to be considered when managing the animals.
“We do know there’s a very good chance that the Macaques are having a negative impact on native species,” she said.
She added: “They’re amazing animals. They can adapt to all sorts of environments.”
A study points to the growing number of monkeys.