Sint Maarten plans to totally eradicate vervet monkeys. Will it fail?

Sint Maarten will cull vervet monkeys, a species considered invasive on the island that the country shares with France. But it’s unsure whether the method will prove effective.

Vervet monkeys
Vervet monkeys | © Magda Ehlers

Vervet monkeys are considered an invasive species in Sint Maarten, a Caribbean country constituent of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. And the government has approved the plan to eradicate them all through euthanasia.

In December, the territory’s ministry of tourism, economic affairs, transportation and telecommunication approved funding 100,000 Netherlands Antillean guilders (56,000 dollars) to get rid of the primate from the territory, The Guardian reports.

There are approximately 450 vervet monkeys (Chlorocebus pygerythrus, or Chlorocebus sabaeus which is more commonly called green monkey) living in St. Maarten, according to observations made in 2021 which most likely underestimated reality. And the population of monkeys has probably grown since then.

Is considered an invasive species a non-native organism that negatively affects and alters a new environment.

The primates can damage the vegetation, including native endangered species, they live in and consume, according to Nature Foundation St Maarten. Moreover, as they can occasionally eat birds, bird eggs and insects, “the native and transient bird populations are likely to decrease,” if “the vervet monkey population continues to increase uncontrolled.”

The Nature Foundation St. Maarten is a non-profit environment organization with the authority granted by the government to manage the marine and terrestrial ecosystems of St. Maarten.

Monkeys can be a health concern for the transmission of diseases to humans, too. But they have also been a cause of nuisance for residents and crop damages for farmers. They are mostly concentrated in the evergreen vegetation on the island’s hilltops. Surrounding residences have to deal with the primates all year round but large groups of monkeys descend downhill on fields and in residences during the dry season. Monkeys have familiarized themselves with humans and have become bolder approaching them in search of food, and are sometimes aggressive. Some residents even feel endangered by their presence.

From December 2020 to May 2021, Nature Foundation St. Maarten was tasked to conduct a research to develop a sustainable management plan over the years in order to control the invasive species.

At the time, the foundation considered that culling monkeys, which are not an endangered species, would be a short-term solution from which they will easily recover, leading to a similar population only a few years later. It preferred sterilization, a population control solution considered a more human approach and favored by animal lovers, which on the other hand may take more time.

But at the end of the research six months later, the foundation recommended euthanasia of vervet monkeys. Local population who were asked their opinion preferred it this way.

This solution would be the most time and cost-effective and has received the most support from residents,” Nature Foundation St. Maarten explained in its report in 2021. “It is a difficult decision to make morally and many aspects have to be taken into account. Giving the public a voice during this process ensures that the island will be supportive of future management projects.”

An in-person survey showed 54 percent of the 143 respondents (about 40,000 people live in Sint Maarten) considered eradication as the best management solution, one in three preferred sterilization and only 13 percent wanted to do nothing. Fifty-nine percent of respondents were younger than 50 years old. Almost half of the respondents reported having monkeys around their homes and 41 percent were afraid of them.

Authorities will fund the NGO to capture and euthanize the monkeys over the next three years.

But Dave Du Toit, founder of the Vervet Monkey Foundation in South Africa, told The Guardian the cull was unlikely to work.

Monkeys have been thriving in this environment and they have no natural predators to control the population, enjoying high survival rates as a consequence. Females usually give birth to one infant a year, meaning the total population can theoretically nearly double in size in two years.

Moreover, French authorities haven’t said whether they would plan on controlling the population, which would most likely make the plan ineffective.

The island in the Caribbean Sea is indeed shared with France and the overseas collectivity of Saint Martin. With a total of 87 square kilometers (34 square miles), Saint-Martin/Sint Maarten is even the world’s smallest inhabited island shared by two countries. St. Maarten, the constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, is in the southern half of the island. But there is no physical border with Saint-Martin, so monkeys on the French overseas collectivity, which is 56 percent of the island, would still be able to repopulate the entire area in the short term.

Sint Maarten and Saint-Martin started discussing about the monkeys back in 2015. Saint-Martin more commonly calls them green monkey, Chlorocebus sabaeus, rather than vervet monkey, Chlorocebus sabaeus, which are both very close species. But often actions cannot be made in common because of different legislation. The Environment department of the collectivity of Saint-Martin, the French Committee of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and the National reserve of Saint-Martin haven’t replied to Newsendip’s requests for comments on the matter.

Vervet monkeys are originally from South-eastern Africa and are the largest invasive mammal species on St. Maarten. They can be also found in large numbers on other Caribbean islands such as St. Kitts, Nevis, and Barbados.

St Kitts a few years ago failed to control the population of monkeys by shooting them.

They were introduced to the Caribbean islands as exotic pets in the 17th and 18th centuries. They have been kept as pets in St. Maarten for decades and, released or escaped, formed the basis for the island’s wild monkey population. The first recorded wild monkey sighting in St. Maarten dates back to the 1970s.

Several other species are invasive on the island such as the green iguana, mongoose, and lionfish.

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