St. Kitts and Nevis wrestles with mischievous invaders: Monkeys

Basseterre, St. Kitts, June 30, 2020 (DOE): As iconic as the islands’ pristine beaches and tropical forests, the 60,000-plus green monkeys of St. Kitts and Nevis are a quintessential part of the Caribbean experience for many visitors.

But while these photogenic mischief-makers might charm tourists, they pose serious threats to the twin-island Federation. Likely first brought to the islands from West Africa as exotic pets by European settlers in the 17th century, today the monkeys are putting pressure on native species, decimating crops and consistently evading efforts to scare them off.

“Feral animals, particularly monkeys and wild pigs, cause considerable yield loss to food production each year,” says Melvin James, St. Kitts and Nevis’ Director of Agriculture. “In 2018, crude estimates indicated that a total of 90 metric tons of food—one month’s production—was rendered unmarketable due to feral animal invasion of farms on St. Kitts alone.”

The United Nations Environment Programme and partners are working with the Government of St. Kitts and Nevis to research the impact of green monkeys on biodiversity, agriculture, tourism, and households. Backed by the Global Environment Facility, the program, formally known as the “Preventing COSTS of Invasive Alien Species in Barbados and the OECS Countries project”, will also develop a sustainable plan to manage the green monkey population.

Naitram Ramnanan, Regional Representative for project partner the Centre for Agriculture and Biosciences International (CABI), said green monkeys are becoming increasingly problematic in the region.

The sustainable management plan that will be developed in St. Kitts and Nevis will also be replicated in Barbados and other islands. The leader of the research team is Dr. Kerry M. Dore, a biological anthropologist with expertise in human-primate interactions.

Dr. Dore’s team has already monitored crop losses across 65 randomly selected farms on St. Kitts and is currently monitoring losses on 26 farms and 22 backyard gardens, alongside conducting surveys to gauge the economic toll of green monkeys on agriculture.

Having already discovered the primates have an appetite for a wide range of native fauna, including West Indian tree ferns, opuntia cacti, bromeliads, heliconias, and philodendron, the researchers are now planning to gauge the toll of the monkeys on the Federation’s bird population. By mimicking the nesting behavior of locally important bird species across a wide range of habitats with quail eggs planted in fake nests the team hopes to measure the scale and pattern of the monkeys’ predation.

“Broadly speaking, we know that invasive species are the number one threat to biodiversity on islands,” Dr. Dore says. “Our goal for this portion of the project is to obtain the information the government needs to make informed management decisions that will benefit the environmental health of the Federation.”

With data from the ongoing research to be used to assess the economic impact of green monkeys on St. Kitts and Nevis’ agricultural sector and biodiversity, work to evaluate the monkeys’ impact on tourism and households will begin in the fall of 2020.

According to Eavin Parry, Environmental Scientist in the Department of Environment and CoDirector for the Project, “With the assistance of the project, St. Kitts and Nevis has embarked on a monkey management pilot project with a view to ascertain the national economic impact of the green monkey on agriculture, tourism and households. Additionally, the project aims to validate capture techniques for green monkeys under local conditions, evaluate the feasibility of cost recovery mechanisms for sustainably managing the monkey population, and to produce a management plan to guide future monkey control programmes.”

The local executing agencies for the project are the Department of Environment and the Department of Agriculture.

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