It started as a scheme to lure tourists to a little-known island on the Silver River.
It was the 1930s, according to local newspaper reports, and a tour boat operator who called himself Colonel Tooey was looking to launch a jungle cruise — right in the heart of northern Florida.
The big draw? Monkeys. Or, to be specific, Asian rhesus macaques. Tooey, according to local lore, brought six monkeys to the island, built them tiny wooden enclosures and christened the place Monkey Island.
But, as it turns out, what happens on Monkey Island doesn’t stay on Monkey Island — especially when you forget one prime fact about these primates: They know how to swim.
In fact, the monkeys, “were swimming off the island before Colonel Tooey could get back to his boat,” wildlife expert Linda Wolfe told the International Primate Protection League in 2013.
Today, possibly six generations removed from the original settlers of Monkey Island, the mainland is teeming with macaques.
But, instead of being a boon to the tourist industry, the long-gone Colonel Tooey may have unwittingly cursed it. Visitors are growing increasingly wary of sharing green spaces with the monkeys.
Whose not being neighborly?
In sprawling Silver Springs park, where an estimated 200 monkeys have taken up residence, officials have closed two walking trails citing close encounters of the simian kind. And a video posted to YouTube earlier this month (and shared below) isn’t likely to be featured in any tourism ads.
“This is insane,” a boy intones into the camera, focusing on one monkey after another lounging from different perches in the park. “There’s baby ones! Oh my God, there’s like a whole family.”
The kid continues stalking the animals, who seem to be trying to mind their own monkey business, even dispersing as the boy stalks them.
A moment later, there’s a blood-curling scream.
“The monkeys are attacking us!” the breathless boy bleats, as a macaque jumps on a walkway near one of the visitors.
“Oh my God!” the boy blares on. “We just got attacked by monkeys!”
We get it, kid. There are monkeys where they shouldn’t be. But the thing is, they’re here now, and their numbers are likely to grow.
Rhesus macaques have no natural predators in the region aside from alligators. And perhaps camera-wielding kids who chase them around, claiming they’re being attacked by them and potentially forcing the hand of public safety officials.
But if left alone — or at least admired from a sober distance — they’re unlikely to star in many more "monkey attack" videos.
Live and let live
Locals, in fact, have been living peacefully alongside them for years now.
"Anybody who lives on our river, they always have the possibility of seeing the monkeys," Brian Pritchard, who recently photographed the monkeys going to town on his bird feeder, told The Associated Press. "As long as you don't bother them, they don't bother you.”
And then, with a little respect shown to this curious population of monkeys that never asked to be here in the first place, they might finally fulfill Colonel Tooey’s long-lost dream — and become a real tourist attraction.