The island nation of Sint Maarten is considering a drastic response to problems caused by local invasive vervet monkeys.
St Maarten is the Dutch portion of an island divided between the Netherlands and France. It lies in the Caribbean Sea about 190 miles east of Puerto Rico. The entire island is known as Saint Martin. The Dutch section is Sint Maarten, the French is The Collectivity of Saint Martin. The island is a major tourist attraction.
The monkeys are presenting the locals with the classic dilemma posed by invasive species: how best to deal with a non-native that is disrupting your country.
Vervet monkeys(genus Chlorocebus) are native to Africa and about 450 have made their home on the island. According to the African Wildlife Foundation:
“The vervet is a small, black-faced monkey, common in East Africa. There are several subspecies of vervet monkeys, but, generally, the body is a greenish-olive or silvery-gray. The face, ears, hands, feet, and the tip of the tail are black, but a conspicuous white band on the forehead blends in with the short whiskers. The males are slightly larger than the females and easily recognized by a turquoise-blue scrotum and red penis. The vervet is classified as a medium- to a large-sized monkey. The tail is usually held up, with the tip curving downward, and the arms and legs are approximately equal lengths.”
After a variety of studies the government of the Dutch half of the island nation is considering capturing and killing all of them. The process would take about three years and be handled by the Nature Foundation of St. Maarten. The organization’s position is that the monkeys are invasive and destructive and need to go to protect the island’s ecosystem. The monkeys eat crops and gardens and havenegative interactions with the people.
According to India Today the problem with the monkeys highlight two issues we have discussed here.
First, the monkeys appear to have arrived as part of the irresponsible wildlife pet trade. The trade in exotic pets is huge, up to 48 billion a year. The exotic pets either escape or are released. Now the monkeys in this case are growing in number and consuming the crops of local farmers. The monkeys may have arrived as exotic pets as early as the 17th Century. Even larger colonies exist on other Caribbean islands.
Second, as invasive species they do not fit into the environment. They have no predators so there is no natural bar on their reproduction. Invasive species can be accidental or deliberate as part of drug and gun running. Pablo Escobar imported hippos into Colombia for his amusement. and that nation is wrestling like St. Maarten with what to do.
Killing the monkeys over a three year period is the current plan. But critics suggest a better approach is capturing and sterilizing males. The Guardian quoted an opponent”
“But Dave Du Toit, founder of the Vervet Monkey Foundation in South Africa, where the species is native, said the cull was unlikely to work. (Hyperlink mine)
“I think a better approach and more publicly acceptable would be to vasectomise the males and sterilise the females,” he told the Guardian.
The non-profit, which shelters orphaned and injured primates, also educates the public on the role of vervet monkeys in the ecosystem and how to prevent human-monkey conflict.”
Human-monkey conflict is not restricted to the island. Even though primates are our relatives, the relationship we have with our cousins is often troubled. Sometimes it involves killing. Sometimes it involves healing.