Saturday, November 4, 2017

Rhesus Macaques vs. Humans in Florida

Monkeys from the Black Lagoon 
by Robert A. Waters 

Local lore is sometimes persistent, even if it's wrong.  Take the rhesus macaque monkeys, formerly of Silver Springs, Florida, but now spreading into the hinterlands.  The notion that the animals were brought there by crews filming Tarzan movies will not go away.  Ask any native, or most transplants, and they'll mention Johnny Weissmuller, Tarzan the Ape Man, and even the later movie, Creature from the Black Lagoon, shot at Silver Springs.  

The truth is that a 1930s promoter who operated glass-bottom boats in Silver Springs bought several monkeys from a New York wildlife dealer.  He placed them on a small island in the springs, hoping to draw more customers to his jungle cruiseHowever, the monkeys quickly swam across the river, spread into the wilderness, and began to multiply. 

Silver Springs has hosted numerous movies and television shows.  "Sea Hunt," the 1960s hit show starring Lloyd Bridges, was filmed at the Springs.  Movies such as The Barefoot Mailman, Distant Drums, Jupiter's Darling and several Tarzan movies were made there.  No monkeys are visible in any of those films. 

Now the animals have become a nuisance, if not more. 

Silver Springs State Park Manager Sally Lieb told reporters that "there have been several recent reports that we've been documenting when people said that the monkeys acted aggressively toward them."   

A family visiting the springs recently filmed four male monkeys chasing them, resulting in a shut-down of certain areas of the park.  The family said they didn't make eye contact with the monkeys, nor did they attempt to feed them.  It seemed to be a spontaneous charge, possibly over territory. 

Captain Kyle Hill, chief inspector for the Florida Fish and Game Commission, told newspeople that "we have reports of monkeys turning up 120 miles away from Silver Springs and we have documented 17 known attacks.''   

For years, park management has fought a losing battle to trap the animals.  Over 700 have been caught and sent to research labs, fueling a group of local protestors who want the monkeys to live in their "natural habitat."  The fact that the animals are non-native to Florida and have few enemies is ignored.  The fact that they carry diseases that can be transferred to humans is overlooked. 

In 2012, a monkey attacked a Tampa woman as she sat on her porch.  The Tampa Bay Times wrote that "a 40-pound wild rhesus macaque jumped on her back...and proceeded to bite and claw her skin."  A spokesman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission stated that the monkey may have been cast out of a colony in Silver Springs. 

In 2013, the New York Post wrote that "herpes-infected monkeys terrorize Florida."  While that is clearly an overstatement, the animals do cause people who have seen the animals in their neighborhoods to be nervous. 

Like pythons, Komodo dragons, Africanized bees, and other wild creatures that have been introduced into Florida's willing habitat, the monkeys are likely here to stay. 

Floridians better get used to it. 

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