Spot A Wild Monkey In Northeast Florida? Experts Say Leave It Alone

Feb 3, 2020

Rhesus macaque monkeys have been in Florida since the late 1930s, when they were imported from Southeast Asia.

Recent sightings in Jacksonville’s Julington Creek neighborhood and throughout St. Johns County have  put the monkeys in the national spotlight.

Experts say some of the monkeys carry Herpes B, which can be deadly to humans.

The fear of a rhesus macaque's causing a human infection has led some to believe the animals need to be taken out, as the comments on this story show:

However, monkey experts want to make it clear – violence is not the best solution.

“They don’t go after humans,” said Kari Bagnall, founder and executive director of Jungle Friends Primate Sanctuary in Gainseville. “Hopefully people are not feeding the monkeys.”

Bagnall said, besides being illegal, feeding the monkeys can turn them aggressive. In 2018, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission made feeding a monkey a second-degree misdemeanor that can result in a fine and jail time.   

Although reports have stated the monkeys can carry Herpes B, there have been no reports of people's contracting it from them. Feral rhesus macaques typically only attack when they feel threatened or scared.

“If you harass them, they're going to protect their families, just like anyone would,” Bagnall said.

Bobby Collins is a retired researcher and director who worked at multiple universities' animal resource divisions. Collins has interacted with rhesus macaques in a laboratory setting.

“It’s no different than having a bear, or a Florida panther, or an alligator or crocodile,” Collins said. “You see them out there in the environment – leave them alone.”

Collins said in his experience and research, infections of Herpes B came purely from laboratory settings. He said as rhesus macaques become juveniles, they start to fight with one another as well as breed. Those activities increase the chances a macaque will transmit herpes to one another.  

The monkeys are mostly spotted along the Silver River beginning in Marion County, east of Ocala. However, in recent months, the monkeys have been sighted as far west as Tampa and as far north as Jacksonville.

FWC declined a request for interview about the issue, but did say in a statement the rhesus macaques “are known to cause ecological, agricultural, and economic impacts in our state. They can also carry diseases. If you encounter wild monkeys in Florida, it is important to keep a safe distance.”

The state has no plan to control the population of the monkeys or attempt to keep them contained or captured. Killing a rhesus macaque is only allowed on private property.

“They’re not bothering anyone,” Bagnall said. “Live and let live, you know? Let them be there…they didn’t ask to be moved here, but here they are now, and they’ve been here for a long time.”

The best course of action, Bangall says – don’t get in their monkey business.

“Go in the house,” Bagnall said.  “Don't try to interact with the monkey. Don't try to engage. Don't try to catch the monkey.  Just call [Florida Fish and Wildlife], and they will be right there to help out the situation.”

Sky Lebron can be reached at slebron@wjct.org, 904-358-6319 or on Twitter at @SkylerLebron