Greetings From: Silver Springs, FL

After a couple of tries, we finally spotted the wild Rhesus monkeys who live at Silver Springs State Park in Florida.

by Michael Boyink / mike@douglascountyherald.com

Most people know about it as the place with the glass-bottomed boats.

You may have seen it as the backdrop for television shows or movies like Sea Hunt or Creature From the Black Lagoon.

Others may remember it as the location of attractions including Wild Waters, the Ross Allen Reptile Institute, A Touch of Garlits car museum, World of Bears, Big Gator Lagoon or Panther Prowl.

We remember Silver Springs, Florida as the place with wild monkeys.

Wild monkeys.

In Florida.

Not natively, of course.

It all started in the 1930s. The glass bottom boats were already in action. Tourists were flocking to the area to see the incredible wildlife found below the surface of the crystal-clear waters.

And Hollywood was calling. 

With ideas about filming a Tarzan movie in the area.

The guy running the boats? One Colonel Tooey.

We don’t know where he came from. Or where he went. Indeed, most of Tooey’s life is lost to history.

Except for one notable decision. Maybe it was a mistake. Maybe it made Tooey a legend in Florida. Maybe it was both.

But Colonel Tooey is the guy who brought monkeys to Silver Springs.

Tarzan lives in the jungle. Jungles have monkeys. Monkeys would be a great addition to the glass bottom boat tours. 

So Tooey went to work.

He made a home for the monkeys. 

An island. 

Working in the Silver River, Tooey dredged out an artificial island in the middle of the Silver River. 

The island would be a great spot for his guests to see the monkeys from his glass-bottomed boats.

With the island done, Tooey purchased six Rhesus monkeys from a carnival in upstate New York. 

He ferried the monkeys over to the island and released them.

It wasn’t long before Tooey knew his mistake.

Because monkeys?

They can swim.

The monkeys quickly left the island and took up residence in the 500+ acres of dense Florida forest surrounding the river.

And started doing what monkeys do. 

Breeding.

By the 1980s, Florida had a “monkey situation.” 

Six monkeys became hundreds. And 25% of them carry the Herpes B virus, which can be communicated to humans. 

Between 1998–2012, The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission tried to minimize the risk to humans by managing the troop population. They authorized the capture and sale of Silver Springs monkeys.

830 of them.

The public was outraged.

And the trapping stopped. 

Monkeys have now been found over 60 miles from Silver Springs. There have been reports of them ravaging orange groves and raiding deer feeding stations. 

A YouTube video shows monkeys attacking a visiting family.

And with no natural predator, their population is ever-increasing.

Oh, studies have been done.

One expert says the monkeys are a non-native, invasive species. Another says they’ve been in Florida long enough to be considered native.  

Various plans for managing the monkey population have been published. 

But people love the monkeys. And the government keeps shuffling its feet – citing public sentiment, funding, and the political climate.

So – for now anyway – Colonel Tooey’s legacy as the monkey man of Florida is safe.

Silver Springs State Park is located approximately 1.5 hours northwest of Orlando, Florida. Learn more at floridastateparks.org/silversprings.

Silver Springs is also known as “Home of the glass-bottomed boats.”
Abandoned amusement park attractions are visible while kayaking the river.