Thursday, December 11, 2008

Monkey Island

The Rhesus Monkey (macaca mulata) is native to Asia, its natural range encompassing northern India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Burma, Thailand, Afghanistan, southern China, and some neighboring areas. They have close-cropped hair on their heads, which accentuates the expressive, humanoid appearance of their faces. They are an adaptable species, acclimated to many habitats, including some in close proximity to humans. This is most common in India, where they are associated with Hanuman, the Hindu monkey god. A few troops of introduced rhesus monkeys reportedly now live wild, not only in Florida but also in South Carolina!Monkeys used for research come from private labs which raise them for that purpose. This was the source of the moneys that escaped to form the South Carolina colony. In the early seventies colonies were set up on two offshore islands in the Florida Keys.
We’d heard stories about these islands. When we acquired a used canoe a number of years ago, it seemed downright tempting to paddle out quietly for a closer look. It was a long and strenuous paddle, especially before we figured out how to use the tides and winds to our advantage. (Time your arrival with the low tide; that way you’ll take advantage of the outgoing tide on the way out, and the incoming tide on the way back in. Stay in the shelter of islands as much as possible in an adverse wind; use a following wind to your advantage.)
Once we got out there, we were treated to an exotic sight, an alien species adapted to our local ecosystem. The monkeys seemed to form troops of ten to twenty individuals. They expressed curiosity about us, but interestingly would not look any of us directly in the eye. When it became apparent that we were staring back at them, they would quickly avert their glance.
Another odd thing was that each troop seemed to have a slightly different appearance. The face color on some groups was more reddish. Others seems to have a more yellowish cast. Although we’d been told that they didn’t swim in salt water, we saw a group of twenty or more leap out of the trees from one side of a narrow creek, swim a few strokes, and disappear into the trees on the other side.By the late 90's tree-huggers were convinced that the monkeys were denuding the islands of vegetation and polluting the water. It’s certainly true that one of the islands had had a good deal of its mangroves stripped of leaves. We never saw any major evidence of pollution in the water. In any event the monkeys were gradually evacuated, someone said to similar islands in the Bahamas.

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