St Kitts and Nevis (WINN): Dr Michel Vandanplas, Senior Scientist at Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine, says if monkeys harbor viruses, the country will have to look at methods of population control.
A study of arbovirus transmission in the Green Vervet Monkey population is currently underway at Ross University, after the medical school received a $300,000 grant from the American-based National Institute of Health.
Dr. Vandanplas says currently there is no evidence that the monkeys are storing these mosquito-borne viruses, but the study is trying to determine definitively whether or not they do.
“If they do carry the virus, then we have to look at control of monkey populations on the island. Other researchers here are looking at immune contraceptives to be applied to the monkey population as a form of control of the population on the island. We have no evidence as yet that these monkeys are carrying the viruses as I mentioned earlier, and until such time, there’s little that one can really speculate.”
A monkey summit in July of last year hosted by the Department of Agriculture examined the monkey infestation problem on the island. It brought together stakeholders from across St. Kitts and Nevis- farmers, trappers, government ministries and agencies, academic institutions, research foundations, private sector companies and animal welfare organizations. Also in attendance was a delegation of wildlife experts from Columbia who came on a fact-finding mission and to contribute to the crafting of a management plan for the Vervet monkey in the Federation.
One of the experts noted that methods used in monkey control internationally include both audible and inaudible devices, fake predatory animals, intermittent sprinklers, dogs and electric fencing among others. He suggested that a toolkit of options be prepared for local farmers so that they could change strategy repeatedly so as to avoid the monkeys becoming too accustomed to any one method.
According to statistics from the Department of Agriculture, as of early March 623 monkeys have been captured for the year, almost double the yearly average of about 350.
Director of Agriculture Melvin James says St. Kitts is embarking on a new more comprehensive monkey management initiative- using tracking devices to help determine troop size and distribution of the animal.
According to Alistair Edwards, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture, two major outcomes of the summit were the introduction of the “barrier” method for deterring monkeys from food crops, and funding received by the department of agriculture to do a population census of the monkeys.
Edwards added that controlling the monkey population should benefit the agriculture sector tremendously, as the animals are considered one of the biggest problems facing local produce farmers.
“A number of things we have accomplished after the monkey summit. For one, we have introduction of the barrier method of preventing monkeys from damaging our crops. That is, I don’t know if you heard about the monkey proof house which is a structure that will be built – I think we constructed one already in the Phillips area – placed in an area known for monkey damage but it built in such a way that monkeys cannot get inside. So it’s almost like a shade house but made from material that does not allow the monkeys to get into a complete structure, that was one. Secondly, the Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Agriculture were able to get some funding to do a population census with a doctoral student that’s ongoing at the moment. So that’s at least two efforts so far that we’ve done since the monkey summit. Thirdly, we’ve also re-engaged the culminant counterparts to assist us in terms of again, with the census and some other methods. Also, we have one of our own who is doing another experiment with another barrier method using a particular plant which tends to deter the monkeys, so that way we use it is getting around the farms. We’re also in discussion at this moment for a huger project that will probably unfold in 2018. Once we have given the farmers the assurance that their crops won’t be bothered by the monkeys, production is going to increase. The theory shows that if we can control the monkeys to below economic threshold level, production will naturally increase without any extra effort by about fifty-three, fifty-five percent.”
Minister of Agriculture Eugene Hamilton says that if the monkeys are found to be infected with the arboviruses, the country may have to revise aspects of the tourism industry pertaining to the primate petting vendors.
“We understand that viruses can be transmitted from monkeys to humans, from humans to monkeys as well. We have this situation where, in St. Kitts and Nevis, on our very shores where the tourist ships come in, individuals have monkeys wrapped around their neck and interacting with passengers from these ships. So, understanding the transmission of diseases from monkeys to humans is important. It will teach us, of course, how to conduct ourselves interacting with tourists as they come here for their leisure and pleasure.”