Florida is not only God’s waiting room; sometimes it’s also Hell’s. Invasive species–including Burmese pythons, Madagascan hissing cockroaches, walking catfish, stucco-eating giant snails–are endangering native species and disrupting the delicate ecosystems. And then there’s herpes infected wildlife, and I don’t mean the humans cataloged on the Twitter feeds Florida Man and Florida Woman.
Virus-carrying rhesus macaques, native to Central, South and Southeast Asia, are on the loose. Some of these are descended from three pairs of primates imported in the 1930s by a tour operator to add an even more jungle-like atmosphere to a park near Ocala. Left on a small island near the Silver River, the rhesus monkeys learned to swim and spread out as their population increased. Other colonies are believed to be from zoos and wildlife parks destroyed by hurricanes. Rhesus macaques eat seeds, roots, nuts, fruit and insects, all of which are readily available in Florida.
Wildlife experts estimate the rhesus population to be at about 1,000, and over the past decade about 700 of the macaques have been captured, most are infected with the herpes-B virus. While in monkeys herpes-B produces mild or no symptoms, according to the CDC exposure for humans–usually from bites or scratches–
can result in acute ascending encephalomyelitis, resulting in death or severe neurologic impairment.
Death can occur in 1 day to 3 weeks after symptom onset, and state officials consider the monkeys a public health hazard. But the ever-optimistic Florida man who runs Silver River Tours told the New York Post:
Everybody who comes on the river for a tour wants to see the monkeys. From my point of view, as a naturalist, I think the planet changes naturally and species do move around, whether that is by man or other means.
Don’t touch the monkey!