Scientists coming up with new ways to help Dania Beach monkeys

(WSVN) - Every once in a while there are sightings of wild monkeys in South Florida. There’s one scientist who wants to help them, but there is something standing in her way. 7’s Brian Entin explains in this special assignment report.

Soon after the sun comes up near Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, we spot a monkey named Abu high up in a tree on the horizon.

Brian Entin: “Oh, he moved a little.”

Dr. Missy Williams: “Oh, he’s coming down. Come on, Abu. Come this way.”

Abu disappears into the forest, and a few minutes later, the monkeys emerge — first a few in the trees, then more line up on the fence.

While it’s technically not allowed, their main source of food comes from employees at a nearby parking lot who feed them every morning.

Employee: “Oranges, raisins, bananas, apples. They even like tomatoes.”

Dr. Williams comes out to the area almost every morning to study the African vervet monkeys.

Their ancestors escaped from the Dania Beach Chimpanzee Farm in the 1940s. The farm was known as a medical research facility and tourist attraction.

The monkeys have lived in the area ever since.

Dr. Missy Williams: “They’re comfortable with people, so they keep a healthy distance, but if they sense a sudden move, they’ll get out of the way pretty quickly.”

Brian Entin: “Oh, one is on our van here.”

Dr. Williams’ research is more important than ever, because the vervet monkey species was recently classified as near-threatened, and their populations are dwindling worldwide.

Dr. Missy Williams: “Seventy-five percent of all primate species are experiencing a decline in numbers, so we’re seeing this here, in Dania Beach, which is kind of concerning.”

She’s concerned, but because of State Law, there’s not much she can do to help.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission considers the monkeys non-native and will not allow the biologist to help when they are sick or injured.

Dr. Williams had to watch a female monkey named Una suffer in pain for months when she lost her arm.

Dr. Missy Williams: “For the severe wounds, it would be nice to be able to have a vet come on site and treat them with antibiotics or any other things that they think would be necessary to minimize the pain and prevent possibly death.”

Another problem Dr. Williams is facing is the male monkeys sometimes roam away to find other mates. Then they end up in urban areas like North Miami Beach, Aventura and even North Perry Airport.

Dr. Missy Williams: “My idea is to be able to trap them and bring them back and release them in Dania Beach. I think this would minimize the possibility of them being hit by a car.”

Her plan is not allowed by FWC.

Dr. Williams is now putting together a proposal to get the State of Florida’s permission to help the sick and straying monkeys.

Dr. Missy Williams: “As a scientist, you’re expected to be objective, but at the same time, I think it’s important to be empathetic and compassionate for the animals that you work with.”

She hopes the state will realize that although these monkeys may not be native to South Florida, they are worth saving since the species is dying off around the world.


Vervet Project Dania Beach

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