"We expect the population to double," Silver Springs monkeys become growing concern

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OCALA, Fla., (WCJB) -- In an effort to bring more tourists to Silver Springs State Park in the 1930's, monkeys were intentionally released into the area.

What began as six monkeys on an island in the park has grown to almost 200. TV20's Olana Osborn met with researchers today, who say the monkeys are a growing concern.

Macaque monkeys are an invasive species at Silver Springs State Park, now researchers at UF are saying their breeding boom could pose a threat to the environment, and to you as well.

"The population is estimated to double from about 175 to close to 350 or 400," said UF associate professor, Dr. Steve Johnson.

Local legend has it that these monkeys were brought to Silver Springs for the filming of a Tarzan movie. But researchers say the Rhesus Macaque monkeys were released by a glass bottom boat driver, Colonel Tootie, to attract more tourism to the springs. Now -- their population size could become an issue.

"The more macaques that are in the park increases the probability of them having some negative ecological impacts on the wildlife and the vegetation there," Johnson said, "And also it increases the probability of encountering people."

Mark Emery, an awarded wildlife videographer, used to work at Silver Springs, and he films these monkeys to this day.

"When you work with them every day, you're going to have a lot of crazy experiences with them," Emery said, "They'll check out your hat, and steal it, and run up into the trees with it. They have kind of an impish character to them."

As for those visiting the park... "I came here to see the monkeys today," but others aren't interested. "Would that be something that would draw you here?" Osborn asked, "Not necessarily no, just the springs," said another passerby.

There are two options for dealing with the animals. Leave them alone for others to see, or curb their population. "I think that would be kind of neat, but monkeys also can be kind of dangerous, too, right?" asked a visitor.

"Well if you're trapping the animals, you're putting the people that are trapping the animals at risk of physical injury by the macaques, and then possibly getting infected by this Herpes B virus that some of them are known to carry," Johnson said.

That's right -- some of these monkeys carry a strand of Herpes.

"You're never going to get rid of them if that's the concern, they have been spotted 50 to 100 miles away from the springs," Emery claimed.

So if you visit the park and see a monkey, admire from a distance.

Although researchers are prompting the state to decide on what to do with these monkeys, they don't have an anticipated date of action.