Thousands Of Monkeys Have Taken Over A South Carolina Island

Since 1979, a colony of medical research monkeys have lived alone on a small island in South Carolina.
Thousands Of Monkeys Have Taken Over A South Carolina Island

Morgan Island is located in Beaufort County, South Carolina. It has a population of zero people and thousands of rhesus monkeys. The monkeys have occupied the island for more than four decades, and sorry, monkey fans, but you aren’t allowed to visit.

The story of Morgan Island, or Monkey Island as it’s affectionately known, begins in 1979 with a facility in Puerto Rico called the Caribbean Primate Research Center. 1,400 monkeys were brought over from the facility and taken to the nearly 4,500-acre island in South Carolina to serve roles in medical tests. There are stories about panic regarding monkeys infected with diseases escaping from the Puerto Rico facility, but whether this caused the move is not confirmed.

Once the monkeys arrived at their new home, the colony was used for things like vaccine trials by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, part of the National Institutes of Health. As time passed, the colony grew, and now there are roughly 4,000 rhesus monkeys on Morgan Island

Dr. Raju Kasambe/Wiki Commons

He might look cute now, but multiply him by 4,000, and it becomes Planet of the Apes.

Today, the colony continues to roam Monkey Island freely. The monkeys are still owned by the National Institutes of Health, and the island itself is under the umbrella of the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. In an age where animal testing is a touchy subject, the Morgan Island monkey colony is the only known medical research monkey group in the United States.  No research is done on the island, though. There are conflicting answers about whether any research is done on the monkeys at all, but if it is, it is all done away from the island.

Naturally, the presence of thousands of monkeys having an island essentially to themselves has garnered attention from nearby humans, but the island is strictly off-limits. Researchers can still go to the island to tag the primates, but otherwise, this is an island for monkeys only. Aside from being illegal to visit, other factors should keep humans away, namely the fact that these monkeys could still carry diseases.

If you want to see them, though, it is common for boat tours to pass by Morgan Island. The monkeys are known to hang out on the beach, so those who really want to catch a glimpse of the colony can see them from the water. For the most part, the monkeys enjoy life in isolation in their natural habitat: South Carolina. 

Top Image: Timothy Gonsalves/Wiki Commons

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