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Monkeys’ business: Researchers trace origins of Fort Lauderdale airport area’s colony of Vervet monkeys

Florida Atlantic University researchers have identified the monkeys as descendants of a band of 1948 escapees from the old Dania Chimpanzee Farm.

Researcher Deborah Williams found that this Vervet monkey and the rest of a colony in Dania Beach, Fla., near Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport dates to a band of escapees from the old Dania Chimpanzee Farm in 1948. Most were captured, but some disappeared into a mangrove swamp. The study determined that 41 descendants live in the area today.
Researcher Deborah Williams found that this Vervet monkey and the rest of a colony in Dania Beach, Fla., near Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport dates to a band of escapees from the old Dania Chimpanzee Farm in 1948. Most were captured, but some disappeared into a mangrove swamp. The study determined that 41 descendants live in the area today.
Deborah Williams via AP

DANIA BEACH, Fla. — For about 70 years, a colony of monkeys has lived in South Florida near jets taking off from nearby Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport and fuel storage tanks.

No one was quite sure where they came from. Until now.

Florida Atlantic University researchers say they’ve traced the colony’s origins to a 1948 escape from the bygone Dania Chimpanzee Farm.

Most but not all of the escapees were recaptured. The rest disappeared into a mangrove swamp, where their descendants live today.

The research team from the state university in Boca Raton, Fla., said the colony now living in Dania Beach, Fla., numbers about 41.

The FAU researchers traced the monkeys’ genetics and concluded they were brought to Florida from Africa. The monkeys were sold mainly for medical and military research.

“The community still loves them,” said Deborah “Missy” Williams, lead author of the study, who works in FAU’s biological sciences department. “They care for them. They want them protected.”

Williams has founded the Dania Beach Vervet Project to protect them and is trying to raise money to buy land for a sanctuary.