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

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.

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


Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

payment methods

We Recommend