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Regulatory Status

The rhesus macaque (Macaca mulatta) is a nonnative species in Florida and is not protected except by anti-cruelty law. Homeowners do not need a permit to remove macaques on their own property. However, homeowners should exercise caution when dealing with any primate species.

The State of Florida regulates captive held rhesus macaques as Class II wildlife. A license is required to possess this species for public exhibition, commercial sales, or personal use. Applicants must possess substantial experience and meet specific facility and caging requirements as outlined in Chapter 68A-6, Florida Administrative Code.

Macaques may become aggressive when fed, and feeding wildlife brings people into close proximity with wildlife. Primates also carry a host of diseases that can be spread to humans. It is prohibited to feed wild monkeys in Florida to help prevent injuries and the spread of diseases to people.

Description

Macaca

Photo Credit: S. Eben Kirksey

The rhesus macaque or rhesus monkey (Macaca mulatta) is a primate species not native to Florida. Rhesus macaques are brown or grey in coloration and have pink, hairless faces. They range in weight from 12-17 pounds with an average height of 1.5-1.7 feet. Average lifespan of macaques is about 30-36 years in the wild and 27-40 years in captivity. Females reach sexual maturity at about 4 years of age and produce an average of 1 offspring per year.

Diet

Rhesus macaques have an omnivorous diet that includes roots, seeds, fruit and bark. They also consume insects and have been observed eating bird eggs. Rhesus macaques live in troops which may contain as many as 10-80 individuals. They climb and swim proficiently, but spend much of their time on the ground. Rhesus macaques can grow rapidly in areas populated by humans by raiding crops, picking through garbage, and receiving food handouts from local residents.

Native Range

Rhesus macaques have an extensive native range that includes Afghanistan, Nepal, Thailand, Pakistan, India, Southeast Asia and China.

Florida Distribution

In the 1930’s, the manager of a glass bottom boat operation reportedly released six rhesus macaques on an island in the Silver River to attract tourists to his boat tours. The released monkeys swam to the surrounding forests and increased their numbers rapidly. As the popularity of these monkeys grew among tourists, the owner of Silver Springs Park released an additional six monkeys around 1948 on the north shore of the river in another attempt to boost revenue. Since then, the population of rhesus macaques in the Silver Springs area and lands adjoining the Ocklawaha River has grown to upwards of 400 individuals at times. Some private trapping and removal efforts have helped keep the population from drastically increasing over the years. As of 2015, the population inside Silver Springs State Park was estimated at 190 macaques, with the population along the Ocklawaha River at an unknown size.

Rhesus macaques introduced to the Florida Keys in the 1970s destroyed red mangroves, leading to massive vegetation loss and shoreline erosion. These macaques were subsequently removed from the Keys in 1990 and 2000.

The core population of rhesus macaques is in central Florida around the Silver River. Individual rhesus macaque sightings have occurred throughout Florida, most likely a result of roaming monkeys originating from the Silver Springs population. These sightings occur as far southwest as Polk County, as far northwest as Wakulla County and as far northeast as Flagler County.

Rhesus Macaque Sightings

Visit IveGot1.org for a map of credible macaque sightings.

Potential Impacts

Rhesus macaques pose a variety of environmental and human health concerns. Introduced rhesus macaques have caused environmental and economic impacts in some areas of the U.S. In Morgan Island, South Carolina, tidal creeks around the island tested positive for elevated levels of E.coli and fecal coliform bacteria due to the monkeys.

Rhesus macaques in Florida have tested positive for herpes B, a virus shed intermittently through bites and scratches or contact with bodily fluids. Around 18 incidents of rhesus macaque bites and scratches have been reported in Florida; many more incidents have been reported in their native range. No confirmed cases of a human contracting herpes B from a macaque in the wild have been documented, but fifty incidents of human infection contracted from macaques in captivity have been reported.

Behavioral observations show macaques may become aggressive when fed by humans. To avoid any potential herpes B transmission, bites, or scratches, the FWC passed a rule in 2017 prohibiting the feeding of any wild monkeys in Florida.

Researchers and wildlife workers have observed the macaques in Silver Springs State Park consuming nearly 50 species of plants and artificially placed quail eggs, which could indicate the potential for egg consumption of native species.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Never approach or offer food to wild monkeys. Never place food or garbage so that it will attract wild monkeys.
  • If you encounter wild monkeys, keep pets on a leash and supervise children closely.
  • Dispose of uneaten food and garbage in closed trash containers. To help prevent conflicts with monkeys and other wildlife, feed pets indoors or remove uneaten pet food left outdoors.
  • If you are bitten or scratched by a wild monkey, immediately wash the wound and seek medical attention according to the CDC guidelines at cdc.gov/herpesbvirus. Call the National B Virus Resource Center for emergency information at 404-413-6550.

If you observe a wild monkey that is posing an imminent threat to human safety, call the FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (888-404-3922).

The FWC would like the public to report observations of rhesus macaques that are seen outside of the core population. Reports can be submitted to the FWC by using the free IveGot1 app for smartphones, by calling the Exotic Species Hotline at 888-IveGot1 (888-483-4681) or by going online to IveGot1.org.

FWC Law Enforcement responds to any public safety issues that involve wild monkeys. At the December 2017 Commission meeting, FWC Commissioners approved a rule change specifically prohibiting the feeding of free roaming, non-human primates in order to promote greater public safety and decrease health concerns. 

References

Cawthon Lang, K.A., 2005. Primate Factsheets: Rhesus macaque. Macaca mulatta. <http://pin.primate.wisc.edu/factsheets/entry/rhesus_macaque>. Accessed 2017 July 11.

C. J. Anderson, S. A. Johnson, M. E. Hostetler and M. G. Summers. 2016. History and Status of Introduced Rhesus Macaques (Macaca mulatta) in Silver Springs State Park, Florida. Department of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, UF/IFAS Extension.

Hakeem, A., G.R. Sandoval, M. Jones and J. Allman. 1996. Brain and life span in primates. Handbook of the psychology of aging. San Diego: Academic Press. Pp.78-104.

Klopchin, J.L., J.R. Stewart, L.F. Webster and P.A. Sandifer. 2008. Assessment of environmental impacts of a colony of free-ranging rhesus monkeys (Macca mulatta) on Morgan Island, South Carolina. Environmental monitoring and assessment 137(1): 301-313.

Kruer, C. 1996. The inside story on the monkey islands of the Florida Keys. Florida Naturalist 68:10-11.

Mattison, J.A., Roth, G.S., Beasley, T.M., Tilmont, E.M., Handy, A.M., Herbert, R.L., Longo, D.L., Allison, D.B., Young, J.E., Bryant, M. and Barnard, D. 2012. Impact of caloric restriction on health and survival in rhesus monkeys from the NIA study. Nature 489(7415):318-321.

Walker, M.L. and Herndon, J.G., 2008. Menopause in nonhuman primates. Biology of reproduction 79(3):398-406.