Scientists Scramble to Save 1,000 Primates on Puerto Rico’s “Monkey Island”

Hurricane Maria devastated Cayo Santiago—a crucial resource for the study of primate behavior, cognition, and genetics since the 1930s.

A monkey eats atop a rock off of Cayo Santiago, known as Monkey Island, in Puerto Rico, one of the world’s most important sites for research into how primates think, socialize and evolve.Ramon Espinosa/AP

This story was originally published by the Huffington Posand appears here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration

More than two weeks after Hurricane Maria made landfall on Puerto Rico, scientists are still scrambling to save the more than 1,000 rhesus monkeys that live on a small piece of land off the main island’s southeast coast.

Cayo Santiago, known as “Monkey Island,” has been a crucial resource for researchers studying primate behavior, cognition and genetics since the 1930s, when scientists brought monkeys to the island from southeast Asia. Since then, a population of rhesus macaques has thrived there, offering scientists a window into the primates’ lives.

An NPR profile of the island in 2015 characterized it as a monkey paradise, where human researchers ate their lunches in cages while the macaques roamed free.

Miraculously, the monkeys largely survived the initial impact of Hurricane Maria. Alexandra Rosati, an assistant psychology professor at the University of Michgain, wrote at The Conversation about the joy and relief that researchers felt when they discovered a particularly beloved monkey had made it through the hurricane.

“Monkey Zero-Zero-Oh is a female we sometimes called “Ooooo,’” Rosati wrote. “She is now an old lady in monkey years, beloved for her spunky personality.”

But the storm devastated the small island, destroying its lush vegetation and wrecking the infrastructure that provided its inhabitants with fresh water, according to news releases from Yale University and the University of Michigan — two of several institutions now working to care for the monkeys.

Researchers are now transporting shipments of food and water to the island, and working to rebuild the rainwater cisterns that the storm destroyed. They’re also distributing supplies and helping with rebuilding efforts in the local community in nearby Punta Santiago, a 15-minute boat ride from Monkey Island. Many of the staff who work on Monkey Island are residents of Punta Santiago.

Two GoFundMe pages are now in place to aid relief efforts for the animals of Monkey Island and for the community of Punta Santiago.

More Mother Jones reporting on Climate Desk

ONE MORE QUICK THING:

Or at least we hope. It’s fall fundraising time, and we’re trying to raise $250,000 to help fund Mother Jones’ journalism during a shorter than normal three-week push.

If you’re reading this, a fundraising pitch at the bottom of an article, you must find our team’s reporting valuable and we hope you’ll consider supporting it with a donation of any amount right now if you can.

It’s really that simple. But if you’d like to read a bit more, our membership lead, Brian Hiatt, has a post for you highlighting some of our newsroom's impressive, impactful work of late—including two big investigations in just one day and covering voting rights the way it needs to be done—that we hope you'll agree is worth supporting.

payment methods

ONE MORE QUICK THING:

Or at least we hope. It’s fall fundraising time, and we’re trying to raise $250,000 to help fund Mother Jones’ journalism during a shorter than normal three-week push.

If you’re reading this, a fundraising pitch at the bottom of an article, you must find our team’s reporting valuable and we hope you’ll consider supporting it with a donation of any amount right now if you can.

It’s really that simple. But if you’d like to read a bit more, our membership lead, Brian Hiatt, has a post for you highlighting some of our newsroom's impressive, impactful work of late—including two big investigations in just one day and covering voting rights the way it needs to be done—that we hope you’ll agree is worth supporting.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate