PHILIPSBURG--St. Maarten Nature Foundation, with the help of a local veterinarian, is getting rid of the more than 450 vervet monkeys on St. Maarten. The entrapment and euthanising of monkeys have the support of the Ministry of Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transport and Telecommunication (TEATT), which provided essential funding.
The elimination of the monkey population is part of St. Maarten Nature Foundation’s Invasive Species Project. Acting TEATT Minister Omar Ottley signed off on funding that was used to purchase materials and equipment and to facilitate training by an experienced monkey trapper from the island of St. Kitts.
Nature Foundation research in 2020 estimated that approximately 450 vervet monkeys (Chlorocebus pygerythrus) lived in Dutch St. Maarten. Two years later the troop size has largely increased, Nature Foundation Manager Leslie Hickerson said. “Exact numbers are not available, as this survey is not yet complete for 2022.”
Hickerson initially did not want to answer the question of what happens to the monkeys after they are captured. “Why is this relevant?” she asked, noting that the question could have no purpose other than sensationalism. She is surprised that there are people who wonder what the animals’ fate is. “It is public knowledge what happens to the monkeys; the Nature Foundation has explained in numerous press releases why and how the monkey population is controlled.”
When a monkey is captured, the animal is sedated and brought in a cage to the veterinary clinic to be euthanised. When asked how many monkeys the Nature Foundation plans to kill, Hickerson said: “All of them.” She stressed that vervet monkeys are an invasive species on St. Maarten.
“They don’t belong here,” Hickerson said. “They have no natural enemies and are a threat to other species on the island. When it is very dry and they cannot find enough fruits and crops to eat, they tend to eat eggs from native birds.”
The number of monkeys in St. Maarten will continue to grow if no measures are taken, Hickerson said. “The consequences to St. Maarten’s native ecosystems will be severe.”
The monkeys also cause damage to people’s gardens, Hickerson said. “The recent pandemic resulted in an increase of home-growers as well as interest in the island becoming more self-sustainable by supporting local agriculturists. Members of the community that have attempted to grow their own fruit and vegetables, as well as local farmers have frequently reported issues with vervet monkeys raiding their crops and destroying their livelihood.
“Invasive Species Project staff have spoken to many of these stakeholders and hope to alleviate some of the stress placed on them due to the damage caused by this species.”
The TEATT Ministry support has been essential for the success of this project, said Terrestrial Ranger Eusebio Richardson. “We were able to learn from an established trapper in St. Kitts the most effective management practices. This is key to ensure that within the time allowed we can make an impact and protect the biodiversity of the island.”
Through the work with the visiting expert the Nature Foundation staff was able to develop trapping methods that have been perfected through years of species management on St. Kitts. However, a recent study from St. Kitts indicates the number of invasive monkeys on the neighbouring island was estimated at 40,000 in 2020, a number equalling St. Kitts’ human population.
St. Maarten Nature Foundation staff will continue to monitor the population of vervet monkeys on the Dutch side of the island with a yearly survey of the troops. The support of the TEATT Ministry for the Invasive Species Project is instrumental to the success of the work, Hickerson said.
“We are incredibly thankful to the Ministry of TEATT and the staff who have been working with us to make this support a reality. We look forward to working towards more collaboration and joint projects in the future.”