Flor­ida won­ders what to do with roam­ing park mon­keys

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - NATION & WORLD - By Ta­mara Lush

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.”

LISA CRIGAR/STAR-BAN­NER 2013

A study points to the grow­ing num­ber of mon­keys.

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