(TMU) — We all know about the legendary “Florida Man” and his often-disturbing hijinks—but now he may be facing some stiff competition in the form of roving bands of feral, disease-ridden Florida monkeys.
Gangs of herpes-infected rhesus macaques are apparently roaming throughout northeast Florida, according to First Coast News. And they’re posing a threat to both locals and the environment.
The monkeys had first been introduced to the area in the 1930s by local cruise operator Colonel Tooey’s Jungle Cruise, which released a dozen monkeys over the years onto an artificial island in Silver Springs State Park near Ocala, Florida. However, the monkeys managed to escape the island by swimming away before they proceeded to reproduce at alarming rates.
By the 1980s, there were roughly 400 macaques reportedly living in the area. And the monkeys are now being spotted across the region in such communities as Jacksonville, St. Johns, St. Augustine, Palatka, Welaka, and Elkton.
To make matters worse, over a quarter of the estimated 300 monkeys are believed to be carrying Herpes B. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, while B virus infection of humans is extremely rare, it can lead to major brain damage or even death without immediate treatment. People typically get infected by the virus if they are bitten or scratched by infected macaques or have contact with the eyes, nose, or mouth of the primate.
Julington Creek resident Carrie Bennett said:
“That is definitely a concern because I walk the dogs at like 5:30 in the morning and its pitch black out … If they bit me, if they came after and bit you, you don’t know what they have, what they’re carrying.”
Some experts fear the impact of the expansion of the foul, filthy primates across the state’s northeast, which many residents have captured on film.
University of Florida primate scientist Dr. Steve Johnson said:
“The potential ramifications are really dire.
A big male like the one in that video in Jacksonville—that’s an extremely strong, potentially dangerous animal.”
State authorities had previously granted clearance to licensed trappers to cull the monkey population in 1984, landing over a thousand of the animals in zoos or research facilities. However, the program was halted due to it proving deeply unpopular with the public.
Greta Mealey, who works for DuMond Conservancy for Primates & Tropical Forests in Miami, warned against blowing the alleged “threat” posed by the macaques out of proportion. She said:
“They’re not going to come up to us and interact with us. They would be more fearful.”
However, she also admitted that “it’s not the kind of animal you probably want hanging around.”
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