Florida monkeys have humans concerned

Feb. 12, 2012 at 7:20 PM
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SILVER SPRINGS, Fla., Feb. 12 (UPI) -- Non-native rhesus monkeys, living in the wild in Florida, are causing a controversy as a potential threat to humans, wildlife officials say.

In a state reliant on tourism and home to many exotic animals, the population of rhesus monkeys has been expanding in the Silver Springs area, near Ocala, for decades.

While some people say the monkeys came to populate the area after getting loose during the filming of a Tarzan movie, most experts believe they were brought to the area in the 1930s to add excitement to an amusement park only to swim away from their river island home.

They are now considered a threat to humans by state wildlife officials, the Tampa Bay Times in St. Petersburg reported Saturday.

A state-approved trapper, Scott Cheslak, has captured more than 700 of the primates in the past decade, but lack of disclosure on their whereabouts has ignited a debate. While he is not obligated by law to explain what he does with his catch, the newspaper confirmed he was formerly employed by a company that supplies monkeys to scientific research laboratories.

The growing number of invasive rhesus monkeys has put Florida officials in the middle of a dilemma. Monkey sightings are popular with tourists, but state wildlife authorities say the animals can spread the herpes-B virus among humans, making them "a true public hazard," Sally Leib, manager of Silver Springs State Park, said.

"We know people like to see the monkeys, but we know they don't belong here," she said.

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