Silver Spring State Park is one of Florida's newest parks, but has been a tourist attraction for more than a century. When Phillip Morrell designed the first glass bottom boat in the 1870's and offered tours of Silver River the attraction began to grow. In the 1930's rhesus monkeys were released in the area and over the years they have reproduced and the population spread throughout a number of adjacent counties.
Introduced species in Florida's wilderness can upset the natural balance and can, at times, pose a threat to humans. The rhesus monkeys are carriers of the herpes B virus which if contracted by a human it can be fatal. People who are scratched or bitten by a wild rhesus monkey should seek immediate medical care if they experience fever, chills, flu-like aches and small blisters at the site of the infection because the virus can travel through the central nervous system and infect the person's brain resulting in death.
Infections from the herpes B infection are extremely rare. Since the virus was discovered in 1932, the Center for Disease Control states only 31 cases of infections in humans have been reported and of those only 21 were fatal. Therefore, the risk of infection from the free-roaming monkeys is very small, although the risk does exist.
Efforts by the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida (ARFF) may have influenced a recent decision by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to cease to allow trapper Scott Cheslak to continue to capture anymore of the monkeys. It's estimated he captured 700 rhesus macaques monkeys over the past decade. Cheslak worked for a company that supplied monkeys to research laboratories, a practice ARFF is strictly against.
A petition ARFF filed with Change.org, signed by 1,922 people and addressed to the Florida Park Service, targeted the issue of trapping the wild monkeys to be placed in laboratories. Instead, ARFF suggested the monkeys be trapped, sterilized and returned to the wild. This method has been very effective in communities where it's being used to control feral cat populations. In addition, they would like to see stricter enforcement of rules against feeding and harassing the monkeys along the rivers.
For now, visitors to Silver Springs State Park and Silver River State Park may still enjoy the occasional glimpse of the rhesus macaque monkeys residing in the surrounding wilderness. For more information about the state parks visit their website.