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How to handle monkeys with Herpes

Infectious monkeys are taking over the park and staff members don't know what to do.

In Silver Spring National Park in Central Florida, a population of escaped feral monkeys have contracted Herpes B, a virus that is potentially deadly to humans. The monkeys are reproducing rapidly and coming dangerously close to the park’s visitors. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission must now decide what to do with the monkeys: relocate them or kill them.

Rhesus Macaques are native to Central and South Asia. But back in 1930 six of them were introduced to the Silver Spring National Park as a tourist attraction. Another six were brought in in 1948. They were originally in an enclosure but the monkeys escaped. They now range throughout the park and have now been spotted in the trees and running through the trails. Many workers and park visitors have been alarmed and have complained due to the danger the monkeys pose.

Officials have warned people to not touch the Herpes-infected animals. Although Herpes B is harmless to the monkeys it can be very dangerous when transmitted to humans, most commonly through scratches and bites. It can also be transported through saliva, feces, and urine. Once transmitted into humans the Herpes B Virus can cause acute ascending encephalomyelitis, inflammation to the brain, and/or spinal cord. It can also cause severe neurological impairment or death.

As of 2015 there were 175 monkeys that roamed free in the park and approximately 2-4% of them were infected with the virus. The population has been growing by an estimated 11% each year. A recent study, led by a Texas A&M ecologist, projected that in the year 2022 there will be at least 300 monkeys in the park. Faced with this population explosion, the park has now begun to seriously explore options to get rid of or cut down the population of these monkeys. The only question is, how?  

Often, the main method to reduce an animal population in a place is to “cull” the animals and kill them. But in Washington, they found a different way. Washington’s National Olympic Park was having several problems with their mountain goats’ obsession with the smell and taste of human urine. It was creating an awkward problem around the park’s bathrooms. To solve the problem with the goats, the park used helicopters to air lift the goats out of the park and relocate them to Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.

Perhaps instead of killing the monkeys, they could, like the goats, be removed and brought to a different habitat. If they choose this option, they will have to remove majority of the monkeys due to the fact that they have been reproducing so rapidly. That might mean capturing about 160 monkeys at least.

For now it is unclear whether Silver Springs Park will find a humane answer to this problem or simply kill the monkeys.

Image Credit: flickr

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