Wild monkeys with deadly strain of herpes are spreading across Florida, wildlife group warns

Rhesus macaques are the type of monkey that was exposed to the bacteria: AP
Rhesus macaques are the type of monkey that was exposed to the bacteria: AP

Diseased, wild monkeys are spreading north-east through Florida - and their numbers are set to double within two years.

The species at the centre of a new warning from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FFWC) is the non-native Rhesus Macaque, which was first introduced to the Silver Springs area in the 1930s.

The monkeys - usually found in south, central and southeast Asia - have been quickly spreading north over the past year and their population in Silver Springs State Park alone is expected to have doubled from 300 in 2018 to 600 in 2022.

If people see them, they’re warned to avoid them as they carry threat of diseases, including the potentially fatal herpes B. If bitten or scratched by a wild monkey, the FFWC recommends the individual seek out medical attention and follow US Centers for Disease Control guidelines for treating herpes B.

According to a 2018 CDC report, approximately 30 percent of the monkeys are said to carry herpes B.

Feeding wild monkeys is a misdemeanour in Florida and punishable with a fine of up to $500 and 60 days in jail. The monkeys are not a protected species in Florida outside of anti-cruelty laws. ​

Local Floridians had mixed views on the monkeys.

“No, we love it. It’s awesome. I think they’re just visiting,” Florida resident Serena Durden said.

Meanwhile Mikayla Schreuin said she was fishing and spotted one of the monkeys in a nearby tree.

“I started hearing this squawking and screaming along the shoreline and these large oak trees, several of the trees started shaking,” Ms Schrein said. “I thought, ‘Wow, Florida really is wild.’ I was just glad I was in a boat. When I found out they have herpes I was glad I was not anywhere near them."

The monkeys were first introduced into the region as part of a jungle boat tour attraction in the 1930’s on Silver Spring island in central Florida’s Silver Springs State Park. A tour boat operator known as “Colonel Tooey” released six of the monkeys onto Silver Spring island, but the monkeys swam off the island into the surrounding woods. Rather than learning from the lesson, the man brought six more to replace them - which also escaped and began to breed.