A colony of rhesus monkeys that was established in Florida’s Silver River State Park in 1938 has been declared a public health hazard after the majority of its members tested positive for the Herpes B virus.
Monkeys infected with the virus present either no or only mild symptoms, but in humans, can lead to hyperesthesias, ataxia, diplopia, agitation, ascending flaccid paralysis and death.
The Silver River colony was founded in 1939 by the self-appointed “Colonel” Tooey, a tour boat operator who wanted to enhance the realism of his “Jungle Cruise.” In the years since, the colony has grown to number over 1,000. And since the now-feral monkeys learned to swim, the colony is threatening to encroach into neighboring human communities.
The current Silver River tour operator, Tom O’Lenick, defended the transportation of the animals to the New York Post, saying “[e]verybody who comes on the river for a tour wants to see the monkeys. From my point of view, as a naturalist, I think the planet changes naturally and species do move around, whether that is by man or other means.”
But officials with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission are increasingly concerned that these “aggressive” animals will injure, either through their actions or viral loads, tourists or native Floridians, who occasionally mistake the monkeys for panthers.
[“Monkey Looking At Something On Tree” on Shutterstock.com]