DANIA BEACH, Fla. – Those who are catching a flight at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport or boarding a cruise ship at Port Everglades have a pretty good chance of spotting the monkeys swinging in the trees or stealing your snacks.
But these cute faces spotted all over Dania Beach have been disappearing.
“In total, in Dania, there’s about 40 monkeys, and based on some modeling that I have done, the population is actually predicted to go extinct,” Dr. Missy Williams told Local 10 News.
Williams studied the population of monkeys for her dissertation and realized there were zero welfare conservation efforts in place to protect these primates.
“People love the monkeys! Absolutely love them!” she said. “So it was very easy to announce to the community, ‘look, we need to do something to help the monkeys and the best thing is to open a sanctuary, but we need everyone to pitch in.’”
So Williams founded the Dania Beach Vervet Project -- a nonprofit organization designed to save the monkeys from the death threats of living in a dangerous urban environment along with countering a very lucrative black market pet trade.
“Once a non-native is trapped, they can’t be released under any circumstances -- it’s euthanasia or go to a permitted facility,” Williams said. “And so, this is what really pushed me to become a permitted facility, so when those animals are at risk for euthanasia, we can save them.”
“We don’t want to capture wild, healthy animals and bring them into captivity, so the purpose of this space is to help an animal at risk,” she added.
Spock is the first vervet saved from an early death after being trapped as a nuisance animal.
At about 10 years old, he is the first fuzzy face to be put in the enclosure, which is filled with ginger and seagrape plants and sits on four acres of leased land.
Spock is an only child at the sanctuary, for now. But the hope is that some of those wild monkeys will interact and socialize with him -- maybe even groom him. That would be a really positive sign.
And to think this all started back in South Florida in the 1940s when the African species escaped from the Dania Chimpanzee Farm. And these monkeys didn’t venture far, deciding to stick around and live like a local, much like many of our South Florida visitors.
“They have been here 80 years -- it’s amazing,” Williams said.
For information on how to help with the effort, visit https://vervetproject.org/.