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Curious Fact of the Week: Monkey Island Is Real

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Monkey Island was thought to be a myth. An island inhabited only by monkeys in South Carolina sounded like the stuff of urban legend. Yet it was revealed to be all true. 

Back in 1979, the Caribbean Primate Research Center in Puerto Rico relocated some 1,400 rhesus monkeys to Morgan Island off the coast from Beaufort, South Carolina. A few more shipments of monkeys arrived in 1980. The uninhabited island in the Low Country was a mix of marshland with 400 acres of elevated terrain forested with cypress trees and live oak. Reportedly, the Puerto Rico station (which still exists as its own monkey island), had some dangerous escapes of monkeys who were infected with the herpes B virus, a disease that doesn’t impact monkeys, but for humans is highly fatal.  

article-imageA rhesus monkey in the Leipziger Zoo (photograph by Moritz Kunert)

The monkeys on Morgan Island have now swelled to a population over 4,000, and while no testing is done on the island, several hundred are captured each year and transported to labs around the United States for testing for diseases and, in more recent years, bioterrorism. The island was privately-owned and officially a secret until it was purchased by the state in 2002, and is now supported by the National Institutes of Health with a much more open profile. 

The rhesus monkeys are native to India, but seem to have adapted well to the Deep South and are quite protective of their small territory. Visitors are strictly prohibited from the island, which is ringed with NO TRESPASSING signs, and those who venture near by boat often see the monkeys swarming the beaches to protect their shore. 

Here’s footage of the monkeys on Morgan Island in 2011:

And a short report on “discovering” the urban legend of Monkey Island from 2008:

MONKEY ISLAND: Morgan Island, South Carolina 

More Animal Islands can be found here >


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