MARION COUNTY, Fla. - While herpes-carrying rhesus macaques monkeys have been roaming Silver Springs State Park for decades, a new study suggests that without intervention, their population could double within years, potentially posing risks to people and the environment.
The study, led by Texas A&M University-Kingsville ecologist and assistant professor of research Jane Anderson, found that the monkeys are breeding rapidly and by 2022, their population could potentially double from its current number of about 300, according to National Geographic.
A tour boat operator originally brought a half a dozen monkeys from their native south and southeast Asia to an island within the Marion County park in 1938, hoping to draw more tourists. But because the primates are such strong swimmers, they quickly infiltrated the rest of the attraction.
Since then, the population has spread and so has its reputation. In July 2017, a troop charged a family who was visiting the park. While no one was hurt in that incident, an encounter with a rhesus macaques could be fatal.
The primates carry herpes B virus, which in rare instances can be spread from a monkey to a human if the person has contact with the animal, either through a scratch or bite or through bodily fluid. Contracting the virus could cause inflammation of the brain and spinal cord, according to the Centers for Disease Control, which could potentially be fatal.
Signs are plastered across the state park, warning visitors to avoid the invasive creatures, but Anderson told National Geographic that as many as one-tenth of boaters on the Silver River offer the primates food, which is illegal.
The monkeys aren't picky eaters, dining on plants, insects, bird eggs and more. This increases their negative impact on the environment and makes it easier for the population to grow and prosper, National Geographic reports.
In a recent study, the CDC called the Silver Springs State Park's population of rhesus macaques a "public health concern, which is why wildlife officials are working to put a population-management plan in place. That proposal, however, has not been determined, according to National Geographic.
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