Farm Escape Confirmed as Origin of Peculiarly Placed Vervet Monkeys in Florida

Vervet monkeys are a group of black-faced monkeys with pale gray / green fur, although there are some variations in the subspecies included in this group. Indigenous to countries across Africa, they are not what you might expect to see while in Florida, but a population of vervet monkeys has taken up residence in the United States regardless.

Despite the strange location of the population, there was little in the way of scientific investigation into how and why they came there. Now, a new study published in Primates Journal has proven that these monkeys originated from a farm from which some animals escaped in 1948 since they built a home for themselves in the mangrove forest near Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, South Florida.

Farm Escape Confirmed as Origin of Peculiarly Placed Vervet Monkeys in Florida

Despite being so far from their birthplace, the vervet monkeys have survived quite happily for more than seven decades. Monkeys have long been a hit with the general public, but – banned from studying in the early 1990s – no one has tried so hard to tell the story of a possible primate settlement. A team of scientists at the University of Florida Atlantic decided to solve this puzzle at once and failed based on the advice of an existing study that may have guessed a failed roadside zoo could be their main story.

The team’s multifaceted approach was tested through historical archives and interviews were conducted to establish a potential source: the Dania Chimpanzee Farm. When it was launched, that facility dealt with primate imports to serve as a test subject for vaccine research, including the treatment of polio among other diseases. It also served as a zoo and had many monkeys imported from Africa. Surfing their archives reveals that the Diana Beach monkeys were probably first caught in Sierra Leone. Diana was able to confirm the theory by analyzing existing population samples for signs of three genetic markers associated with the chimpanzee farm group.

The analysis confirmed that the Dania Beach monkeys are actually of the same species (Chlorocebus sabaeus) and of West African origin, matching the genetic profile of Sierra Leone’s vervets. Living images of Diana Beach monkeys still support this theory today and share specific physical characteristics that are associated with animals in West African countries. These include the color of the fur, the color of the tip of the tail, and even the color of the testicles arranged by men. A qualitative comparison of these phenotypic properties has been observed as a feature of Chlorocebus sabaeus.