Hundreds of rhesus macaque monkeys are roaming central Florida and there have been several reports of them pestering people.
Recently, Brian Pritchard of Ocala photographed a troop of about fifty of the primates in his back yard stealing food from a deer feeder. He said they consumed about 250 pounds of the feed in one week.
A few weeks ago, a family was approached by several of the macaques while vacationing in Silver Springs State Park near Orlando. Susie Ramsey of Estero said the animals chased her sons and parents even though they did nothing to provoke them.
Like many exotic creatures that roam the Sunshine State—think poisonous Bufo toads, Nile crocodiles, and boa constrictors—the monkeys now inhabiting central Florida are not native, but were brought here by people.
In the case of the macaques, the monkey business began when they were imported in the 1930s by a tour boat operator named Colonel Tooey. Legend has it that he was intrigued by rumors that a Tarzan movie starring Johnny Weissmuller would be filmed in Florida. Tarzan would be joined by Jane and, importantly, a chimpanzee named Cheeta.
Cheeta inspired Tooey, and he went bananas at the potential of having monkeys inhabit an island in the Silver River that tourists could oggle from his boat. So, he imported a half-dozen from Asia.
Small problem: monkeys can swim so they didn’t stay on the island for very long. And they breed, like, well, monkeys. In 1998, there were so many the state paid a trapper to capture them and 772 were sold for medical research.
Wildlife officials say the macaques now number around 200. And growing. Which means the monkeyshines will continue.
Welcome to Florida. It’s a jungle out there.
STRANGE FACT: Rhesus macaque monkeys are known to carry a variant of the Herpes 8 virus. But it is rare that it infects humans.