By Paula Froelich
February 1, 2020 | 3:43pm
rhesus macaques monkey Florida
A rhesus macaques monkey is pictured in Silver Springs, Fla. in 2017. AP
Forget Florida man, now there’s Florida monkeys.
A roving band of feral, herpes-ridden monkeys is now roaming across northeast Florida.
The STD-addled rhesus macaques had previously been confined to Silver Springs State Park near Ocala, Florida, but are now being spotted miles away in Jacksonville, St. Johns, St. Augustine, Palatka, Welaka and Elkton, Florida according to a local ABC affiliate, First Coast News.
Even more worrying: over a quarter of the 300 feral macaques — an invasive species native to south and southeast Asia — carry herpes B, according to a 2018 survey, National Geographic reported.
The monkeys were introduced to the area in the 1930s by a local cruise operator, Colonel Tooey’s Jungle Cruise, which released 12 monkeys over a series of years onto a man-made island inside Silver Springs State Park. The monkeys swam to freedom and reproduced at alarming rates and are now wandering around residential areas.
“The potential ramifications are really dire,” University of Florida primate scientist Dr. Steve Johnson told First Coast News. “A big male … that’s an extremely strong, potentially dangerous animal.”
In 1984, the then-Florida Game and Freshwater Fish Commission allowed licensed trappers to cull the monkey population by trapping and hunting. Over a thousand of the monkeys ended up in zoos or research facilities — or were simply killed. It was “a program that proved deeply unpopular with the public,” FCN noted. Since 2012 there has been no active management of the monkey population.
Greta Mealey, who works for DuMond Conservancy for Primates & Tropical Forests in Miami, told FCN that the monkeys are not a major threat to humans. “They’re not going to come up to us and interact with us. They would be more fearful.”
But, she added, “It’s not the kind of animal you probably want hanging around.”
Mealey’s grandson, Jason Parks, 8, of Julington Creek, saw one of the monkeys and described it as “being about chest high with ‘sharp claws and stuff. … My sister named him George.’”