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Herpes-Infected Monkeys Roaming Florida

Remember: Don't pet the wild monkeys.

One of the more bizarre natural phenomena here in Florida -- besides huge pythons, dangerous mosquitoes, biblical floods, and bone-crushing diseases -- is the state's population of rhesus monkeys.

It's a mystery how the animals actually got here, but according to state officials, there are about 1,000 monkeys roaming Florida. But rather than a cute and cuddly addition to the wildlife scene, these guys are actually dangerous: Many are infected with a strand of herpes that can be deadly to humans.

Rhesus monkeys -- natives of African and Asia that can weigh up to 40 pounds -- have been in Florida for the past 80 years. Right now, experts guesstimate the population numbers around 1,000, the NYPost reports. Mainly the animals are located in the middle part of the state, around Silver Springs State Park and Ocala.

How exactly monkeys came to call Florida home is a contested piece of turf in the state's mythology. The original story goes that the animals were shipped in to the Ocala area for a Tarzan movie in the 1930s, then went AWOL.

It's more widely accepted today that a jungle cruise operator put them on an island on the Silver River in the same decade. Turns out, the monkeys knew how to swim, soon breaking away from their location, the Tampa Bay Times reports.

The problem now is that the little critters have contracted herpes-B. This isn't your standard issue Sigma Chi brand of the virus. B is a simian version of the bug, rarely contracted by humans. However, when the virus does cross species, it can result in "severe neurologic impairment or fatal encephalomyelitis," according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

So, again, don't pet the monkeys. Or, you know, anything else. Uh.

In a weird twist, the state has enlisted a trapper named Scott Cheslak to quietly pluck monkeys from the wild as a means of mitigating the health crisis. Back in 2012, the Tampa Bay Times reported he'd notched about 700.

But no one seems to know what he does with them once they're in custody.

This being Florida -- where no one does anything without a good line on a possible business angle -- some of Cheslak's take have reportedly been used to breed research animals.

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Kyle Swenson
Contact: Kyle Swenson

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