(The Hill) — Wild monkeys have been spotted in Orange City, Fla., sparking warnings from local officials to stay away from the on-the-loose primates.
Orange City police warned residents not to feed a wild rhesus monkey seen in the town, about 30 miles north of Orlando.
The monkeys can cause outbreaks of E. coli and herpes and devastate quail and other bird populations by eating eggs, according to a publication from the University of Florida.
It is unknown how many rhesus monkeys, native to Southeast Asia, roam wild in the state. There are also several populations of squirrel monkeys wild in Florida.
“Rhesus macaques pose the greatest ecological and human health threats of the monkeys in Florida,” the university said. “Macaques accustomed to being fed lose their fear of humans and begin to see humans as a food source. As a result, the macaques may become aggressive, attacking humans when food is around.”
It is illegal to feed wild monkeys in Florida, with the crime punishable by up to 2 months in jail and a $500 fine.
Wild rhesus monkeys came to Florida in the 1930s, released in north-central Florida by a local boat captain, the university said. Another population was created by a research institute in the Florida Keys in the 1970s and wreaked havoc on mangrove trees.
“Monkeys are interesting animals, and many people enjoy watching and interacting with them,” the university said. “It is important to remember, however, they are not native to Florida, and unmanaged populations could potentially be dangerous for the environment, native wildlife, or humans.”