Feral Monkeys Threaten Florida With Lethal Herpes

There have been 50 confirmed cases of humans catching herpes B from macaques. Of those 50 cases, 21 were fatal. | Md. Tareq Aziz Touhid, CC BY-SA 4.0

The potential ramifications are “really dire.” Dr. Steve Johnson, U. of Fla. |

Plus: Is it legal to hunt feral monkeys in FL? 

Feb 2, 2020

Newsweek – At least 12 feral rhesus macaque monkeys, which could be infected with a deadly form of herpes, have been spotted for the first time in northern Florida.

According to ABC-affiliate First Coast News, the animals were seen in six neighborhoods in the city of Jacksonville.

But how did members of this species, which originates from Asia, end up in the Sunshine State?

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The brown and gray creatures, characterized by their pink, hairless faces, were introduced to the state in the 1930s by a man named Colonel Tooey, who ran a glass bottom boat tour on the Silver River in central Florida.

Tooey bought half a dozen of the animals and released them on an island to add interest to his attraction, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).

Outside Florida, the animals live in Afghanistan, Nepal, Thailand, Pakistan, India, Southeast Asia, and China.

Unbeknownst to Tooey, the animals can swim and were able to escape to the nearby forests where they rapidly multiplied.

About a decade later, Tooey, who owned Silver Springs Park, noticed how popular the animals had become with tourists, and released a further six monkeys to the north shore of the river.

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In the mid-1980s the population spiked to almost 400. Between 1984 and 2010, around 1,000 were trapped and killed in an attempt to control the population.

In the 1970s, a laboratory animal supply company introduced rhesus macaques to the Florida Keys, but they were removed between 1990 and 2000 after they ruined red mangroves, causing a loss of vegetation and eroded the shoreline.

Now, the animals, which can live for over three decades in the wild in groups of between 10 to 80 monkeys, have been spotted in the Julington Creek, St. Johns, St. Augustine, Palatka, Welaka and Elkton areas of northeast Florida … Read more. 

“Fifty incidents of human infection contracted from macaques in captivity have been reported.” – Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

Feral monkeys thrive in Florida—and carry a deadly virus

Descendants of theme-park escapees, a population of rhesus macaques in a Florida state park may soon double in size—a recipe for trouble

Nov 9, 2018

National Geographic – In the heart of central Florida lies Silver Spring State Park—a large patchwork of forests and wetlands with a spring-fed river flowing through it. One of Florida’s first tourist attractions, the park was once known for its scenic vistas and native wildlife. But for the last 80 years, the park’s biggest draw has been its monkeys.

That’s right—Silver Spring State Park is home to at least 300 rhesus macaques, a monkey native to south and southeast Asia. The animals are breeding rapidly, and a new study estimates that the monkey population will double by 2022 unless state agencies take steps to control it.

The study, published October 26 in the journal Wildlife Management, claims that such an increase could put the health of the park and its visitors in serious jeopardy—because, among other problems, the monkeys carry a rare and deadly form of herpes virus called herpes B.

It’s extremely, extremely rare for herpes B to spread from a monkey to a human, but when it does, it can be fatal.

An introduced population of rhesus macaques proven to be carrying the dangerous herpes B virus resides in Silver Springs State Park, a popular tourist destination. Read more. 

Is it legal to shoot feral monkeys in Florida? 

Official statement of Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission:

“The rhesus macaque (Macaca mulatta) is a nonnative species in Florida and is not protected except by anti-cruelty law. Homeowners do not need a permit to remove macaques on their own property. However, homeowners should exercise caution when dealing with any primate species.”

Florida Distribution

In the 1930’s, the manager of a glass bottom boat operation reportedly released six rhesus macaques on an island in the Silver River to attract tourists to his boat tours. The released monkeys swam to the surrounding forests and increased their numbers rapidly.

As the popularity of these monkeys grew among tourists, the owner of Silver Springs Park released an additional six monkeys around 1948 on the north shore of the river in another attempt to boost revenue.

Since then, the population of rhesus macaques in the Silver Springs area and lands adjoining the Ocklawaha River has grown to upwards of 400 individuals at times.

Some private trapping and removal efforts have helped keep the population from drastically increasing over the years. As of 2015, the population inside Silver Springs State Park was estimated at 190 macaques, with the population along the Ocklawaha River at an unknown size.

Rhesus macaques introduced to the Florida Keys in the 1970s destroyed red mangroves, leading to massive vegetation loss and shoreline erosion. These macaques were subsequently removed from the Keys in 1990 and 2000.

The core population of rhesus macaques is in central Florida around the Silver River. Individual rhesus macaque sightings have occurred throughout Florida, most likely a result of roaming monkeys originating from the Silver Springs population. These sightings occur as far southwest as Polk County, as far northwest as Wakulla County and as far northeast as Flagler County.


Visit IveGot1.org for a map of credible macaque sightings.

Potential Impacts

Rhesus macaques pose a variety of environmental and human health concerns. Introduced rhesus macaques have caused environmental and economic impacts in some areas of the U.S. In Morgan Island, South Carolina, tidal creeks around the island tested positive for elevated levels of E.coli and fecal coliform bacteria due to the monkeys.

Rhesus macaques in Florida have tested positive for herpes B, a virus shed intermittently through bites and scratches or contact with bodily fluids.

Around 18 incidents of rhesus macaque bites and scratches have been reported in Florida; many more incidents have been reported in their native range.

No confirmed cases of a human contracting herpes B from a macaque in the wild have been documented, but fifty incidents of human infection contracted from macaques in captivity have been reported.

Behavioral observations show macaques may become aggressive when fed by humans. To avoid any potential herpes B transmission, bites, or scratches, the FWC passed a rule in 2017 prohibiting the feeding of any wild monkeys in Florida.

Researchers and wildlife workers have observed the macaques in Silver Springs State Park consuming nearly 50 species of plants and artificially placed quail eggs, which could indicate the potential for egg consumption of native species. Source. 

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