ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – The Florida Fish And Wildlife Conservation Commission has a warning for residents of Northeast Florida: Be on the lookout for wild monkeys.
WXJT reports the specific wild monkeys that FWC is warning about is the Rhesus Macaque monkey. The monkey was first brought to Florida in the 1930s in the Silver Springs area and they have spread across the state ever since.
There are also Vervet monkeys which are more prominent in South Florida. They arrived in the 1950s and 1960s as part of tourist attractions.
Wild monkeys are not native to Florida and are not protected except by anti-cruelty law.
FWC is warning residents to stay away from the monkeys if they see them due to the threat of disease, including herpes B which can be fatal. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in 2018 around 30 percent of the monkeys were found to carry herpes B.
Most of the reported threats in Northeast Florida have been in the northern St. Johns County area.
Some are concerned about the wild monkeys, others aren’t.
“No, we love it. It’s awesome. I think they’re just visiting,” St. Johns County resident Serena Durden said.
But Manny Nagrin who’s working construction in the area said he will be keeping his eyes to the trees.
"I won’t touch them though. I don’t want no herpes,” he said.
Mikayla Schrein said she was recently fishing in the waters near Girvin Road and the Wonderwood Expressway when she spotted one of the monkeys.
“I started hearing this squawking and screaming along the shoreline and these large oak trees, several of the trees started shaking,” 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."
There were also confirmed sightings in the Julington Creek area, and Flagler and Volusia Counties.
FWC warns residents to not approach the animals or feed them. Feeding wild monkeys is prohibited in Florida and is a second-degree misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $500 and 60 days in jail.
Officials also said to keep pets on a leash and make sure children stay far away from the monkeys.
Anyone who is scratched or bitten by a monkey should call the Centers for Disease Control at 404-413-6550.
FWC is also asking residents to report any sightings and take pictures if it’s safe and can call the FWC exotic species hotline at 888-IVEGOT1 (888-483-4681).
For more information, visit MyFWC.com.