Farmers Call for Monkey Roundup

Carrie McLaren carrie at stayfreemagazine.org
Wed Mar 14 18:29:19 EST 2001


THE ORLANDO SENTINEL
March 12, 2001 Monday, METRO

HEADLINE: FARMERS CALL FOR ROUNDUP OF MONKEYS

BYLINE: Ivan Roman, San Juan Bureau

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- With a scratch on a watermelon here, a bite in a
pumpkin there, large, wild monkeys -- not native to Puerto Rico -- have
plagued some farmers for years.

The monkeys have learned to dodge electrical fences put up to protect the
melons, peppers and pineapples. In one gruesome incident, they killed two
guard dogs.

Lajas Mayor Marcos "Turin" Irizarry screeched to a halt, shaking up his
family as they were enjoying a Sunday drive, when a male monkey leading a
pack stepped out in front of him like a crossing guard and stood firm until
the monkey's group was safely on the other side.

"They've gotten to a point that they're a menace," said Georgie Ferrer,
president of the Lajas Valley Farmers United Front, who -- thanks to the
monkeys -- gave up growing melons two years ago and now runs a freshwater
shrimp hatchery.

"When they were 50 or 100, they stayed in the hills," he added. "Now that
food is scarce there, they come to the farms. Before, they ran when they saw
you. They're not afraid of human beings anymore."

The farmers in southwestern Puerto Rico have complained about the monkeys
for years, but now they feel a sense of urgency. They say the handful of
rhesus and patas monkeys, brought to the island for experiments in the
1950s, has swelled to 1,500 primates, possibly as many as 2,000.

India bars their exportation now. But rhesus monkeys -- those "organ
grinder" sidekicks with some physiological similarities to humans -- were
used for decades to test vaccines and study learning and behavior.

Africa's patas monkey, sporting a white "mustache" that one expert says
makes it look like "a grumpy, retired British colonel," is built like a
greyhound. The fastest primate on earth, it can go from zero to 33 mph in
three seconds.

Brought by federal agencies to small cays off Puerto Rico's southwestern
coasts, the monkeys escaped to the main island once the experiments were
over.

"In Puerto Rico, there are no lions, tigers, nothing to hunt them," Raul A.
Perez of the University of Puerto Rico's Wildlife Management Program told
the House of Representatives' Agriculture Committee last week. "And if they
get to the island's central mountain chain, God help us!"

Government officials now seem to be heeding the call. After several hearings
in the Capitol, legislators in a helicopter Saturday tried to view the
primates from above. The Agriculture Department is figuring out how much
money 50 or so farmers have lost.

The two- to three-foot-long monkeys go for $1,000 each to research
universities and zoos. Farmers want them caught and sold, and they think
they should get the proceeds. Others prefer pushing them to one part of the
Lajas valley overlooking the Caribbean Sea and making the monkeys into a
wild tourist attraction.

But no one is talking about killing them -- at least not publicly.

"We're following up to make sure nothing bad happens to them as they try to
catch them," said Nelida Ruiz of Animal Protection Federation.

Experts counsel patience. Previous private efforts to catch them failed, and
it's a big challenge just to document how many and where they are. Most with
a hand in this mess realize it's going to take a good chunk of government
money to catch them and a good plan on what to do with them.

"This is a long-term problem," said biology teacher Alberto Torres Vargas
who testified before the House. "This can't be solved in a year or two."





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