There has been a major upswing in the number of incidents of harassment at a popular Florida tourist attraction. Officials at the Silver Springs State Park have had to close two areas to visitors following a major spike in the number of incidents over the last couple of months. The area is extremely popular with both residents and non-residents of the state.
But officials say there has been a lot of monkey business in and around the park lately, much more than normal. The increase could be do to outside gangs invading the park in search of victims. The park is home to bands of non-native rhesus macaques who live along a river which is popular with both kayakers and tourists.
The closures have so far only effected two walking areas at Silver Springs State Park because of unwanted monkey interactions with park guests. Park officials say that an observation deck and a boardwalk are off-limits because the primates have essentially taken over the areas. Matt Mitchell, the assistant director of Florida State Parks, said rangers are checking areas each morning for monkey activity.
In a statement, Mitchell wrote: “Park staff may temporarily close use areas if monkeys are spotted during these checks. Park staff also respond to reports of monkeys in public use areas by guests.”
The monkeys were released in 1938 by tour boat operator, Colonel Tooey, to enhance his Jungle Cruise ride. Tooey thought it would be a good idea to release six macaques on a small island in the Silver River and call it Monkey Island to draw tourists. “He thought they would stay on Monkey Island,” said Eben Kirksey, a Florida native and a professor of environmental humanities at UNSW Sydney in Australia. “But they are good swimmers.”
Researchers estimate from 150 to 200 wild rhesus macaques live at the park and an unknown number live outside. Experts say the monkeys can be violent at times and recently a video taken by a tourist and posted online showed seemingly aggressive monkeys on one of the park’s boardwalks. Park rangers warn visitors not to feed the 20-pound, 2-foot tall mammals and are stepping up patrols in sections where there are high possibilities of monkey-human interaction. Aided by the relative lack of natural predators, the monkeys thrive in the warm climate and the park at one time sold “monkey chow” so visitors could feed the primates.
“The people who live in Ocala very much value their presence in the community,” Kirksey said. But state officials are considering options to control the primates, viral videos of charging monkeys aren’t the best publicity for the park. There have been 18 confirmed reports of bites and scratches from the animals since 1938. “You definitely don’t want to get near them. You don’t want to antagonize them,” said Steve Johnson
Recently, a homeowner 4 miles away captured photos of some 50 monkeys swarming his deer feeder. “Anybody who lives on our river, they always have the possibility of seeing the monkeys,” said Pritchard, a 33-year-old taxidermist. “As long as you don’t bother them, they don’t bother you.”