When hordes of monkeys began invading Puerto Rico's agricultural fields, devastating crops and eluding capture, the major concern was trapping them before they reached urban areas, where they would pose a public health hazard and be nearly impossible to round up.
Fear is turning to outrage. Authorities recently acknowledged a clan of these pesky moneys, escapees from defunct medical research laboratories along Puerto Rico's southern coast, has turned up just 20 minutes outside metropolitan San Juan — home to 1.5 million residents and a virtually unlimited number of hiding places.
"It would be very bad if these monkeys got to San Juan," said Jose Chalbert, director of Puerto Rico's Department of Natural Resources, an agency that recently proposed capturing the wild monkeys because they carry diseases.
"I don't even want to think about having to trap monkeys there," Chalbert said, adding that funding for his $3 million effort to trap the monkeys is being held up amid all the fighting going on in the legislature.
Primates are not native to Puerto Rico. But the island has been home to a species of monkey dating back to the 1950s when scientists brought them here for medical experiments. The animals — descendants of the patas and rhesus monkeys that escaped from medical-research labs — are known to be fertile and aggressive. Mature monkeys can weigh up to 50 pounds, and it's estimated the monkey population in southeast Puerto Rico stands at between 1,000 to 2,000 — and it's growing every day.