As many as 30 per cent of feral rhesus macaque monkeys living in and outside of Florida state parks are infected with a strain of herpes that’s exceptionally dangerous to humans. Wildlife officials are now calling for the total removal of these free-roaming monkeys from the state.

A free-roaming monkey in Florida’s Silver Springs Park. It may or may not have herpes B. (Image: AP)

It may come as a surprise that Florida has wild monkeys, but it’s true. The rhesus macaques, native to Asia, were introduced to the state in the 1930s during the Tarzan craze as an effort to boost tourism.

Today, around 175 of these monkeys roam Silver Springs State Park, but they have spread elsewhere, roaming as far as the Ocala, Sarasota and Tallahassee regions.

New research published in Emerging Infectious Diseases, a publication run by the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, suggests an alarming number of these monkeys are excreting a form of herpes, called herpes B virus, or macacine herpesvirus 1 (McHV-1), which can be dangerous to humans — even fatal.

We’re naming this one “Bitey.” (Image: AP)

Researchers from the CDC, the University of Florida and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission analysed macaque samples (faeces and saliva) collected by trappers from 2000 to 2012 in Silver Springs State park and along the Ocklawaha River in central Florida.

They also analysed viral DNA taken from free-ranging monkeys in the park from 2015 to 2016. Collectively, these samples suggested that as many as 30 per cent of the animals tested during this period were infected with the virus. The researchers say this represents a serious public health concern and recommend that the monkeys be removed from the state, though they don’t explain how that should happen.

Herpes B virus is