Mystery Surrounding the Green Monkeys at Florida Airport Is Solved

An adult vervet monkey feeds her young.
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Experts say these vervet monkeys (Chorlocebus sabers) are the descendants of zoo escapees going back to 1948 and are beloved by many of the local residents and city officials, according to a published report. 

Did you know there is a colony of wild African green monkeys living near the Fort-Lauderdale Hollywood International Airport? In fact, you may have already noticed them during your travels. And, some of you may be surprised and wonder why and how these African monkeys are in South Florida.

Experts say these vervet monkeys (Chorlocebus sabers) are the descendants of zoo escapees going back to 1948, according to a published report. 

A team of Florida Atlantic University scientists (FAU) traced these wild monkeys to an escape from the Dania Chimpanzee farm 70 years ago. The monkeys at the facility were reportedly imported from Africa and used as research subjects in the development of the polio vaccine and other medical research, according to Live Science.

FAU Biologist, Deborah "Missy" Williams, Ph.D., has been studying the vervet monkeys for nearly a decade. She, along with a team of researchers, has been working to conserve the small monkey population that she says contains 36 vervets. 

Williams explained that the monkeys have settled in the coastal region and live in the thick mangroves near Dania Beach, which is located near the airport.

The animals mostly gather near the Park 'No Go. A parking lot manager told News10 earlier this year that they "rarely cause any trouble." On occasion, they have been known to jump through an open window in search of snacks, Live Science reported.

Williams team created a database detailing each monkey's appearance and conducted a genetic analysis to help identify the species and find out its origins. Scientists recorded the following traits by documenting their fur color; presence or absence of browband; the color of tail tip; and scrotum color of adult males. The results were published in the journal Primates, according to the Florida Atlantic University release.

During the study, scientists used three genetic markers: one mitochondrial DNA gene cell (cytochrome b) and two fragments from the Y-chromosome, the sex-determining gene, and the zinc-finger gene, to test the monkey's origins.

Historical data implied that the monkeys were caught in Sierra Leone and their ancestors came from western Africa, the release said.

"Our monkeys in Dania Beach have a golden-tipped tail and greenish-brown hair, lack a pronounced browband around the face, and males have a pale blue scrotum. These phenotypic traits are characteristic of Chlorocebus sabaeus," Williams said.

Kate Detwiler, an anthropologist at Florida Atlantic University and the study's senior author, said the data they collect lays the groundwork for future studies to address new questions about the population and how the species adapts to the urban and industrial environment of South Florida. 

"The correct taxonomic identification and history of the introduced Dania Beach monkeys are important for community outreach and wildlife management, given the remarkable ability for Chlorocebus to thrive in most environments," Detwiler added.

Williams, who created the Dania Beach Vervet Project in 2014, hopes to raise money to purchase land for a sanctuary one day, Forbes reported

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