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The debate on what to do about Florida’s monkeys infected with herpes in animal testing labs

Since 1984, and for the next several decades, about 1000 of macaque monkeys have been infected with the herpes virus for biomedical research, and later released along Florida’s Silver River.

HANNAH KNOWLES: ‘The debate about whether and how to control the 4,000-acre park’s rhesus macaques has reignited in recent weeks after a spate of far-flung monkey sightings brought alarm and blaring headlines: “They’re here!” one news station declared after the animals showed up as far as 100 miles north in Jacksonville…

The macaque population along Florida’s Silver River had ballooned to nearly 400 by 1984, according to a paper by Anderson and her colleagues. About a thousand of the area’s monkeys were trapped and sold for biomedical research over the next several decades, they write, as people grew concerned they might be plundering birds’ nests and could pass their virus on to humans. The macaques’ herpes B has only been transmitted to people in the lab — but in the rare cases that humans get the virus, it can be deadly.

The trapping and selling drew its own backlash, however, from animal rights groups and others concerned for the monkeys’ welfare…“It is a tragedy that wild monkeys are torn from their families and forest homes and sold to research and testing laboratories,” one animal rights organization’s spokesman said in 2013, calling on officials to catch and sterilize instead, as the Ocala Star-Banner reported…

“What do you do with the monkeys?” the University of Florida associate professor told The Washington Post. “If you bring them out alive, something has to be done with them”… But sterilization is expensive, researchers say, and budgets are tight. Steven Johnson, an academic who advocates cutting the monkey population, acknowledges there is no easy solution now that the macaques have made themselves at home…

And so, since 2012, efforts to thin Silver River’s monkeys have stopped. Instead of trying to manage the population, officials warn tourists to keep their distance. “We tell people not to approach them, not to feed them, because we want people to stay safe,” said Craig Littauer, a park services specialist. He emphasized that the monkeys are just one of a host of local wild animals, from black bears to bobcats, that can act unpredictably’. SOURCE…

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