HOMOSASSA, Fla. (CIRCA) — There’s a tiny island on the west coast of Florida that serves as a ‘mini-monkey Alcatraz’ for four very naughty and mischievous little spider monkeys.
Lucas Courter, Monkey Island’s maintenance man, explained why they are essentially in a jail-like environment by being on the island.
“Spider Monkeys have very low body fat, so if they were to go in the water, they would freeze up and go into shock. They would just sink straight to the bottom,” Courter said.
The monkeys despise water so much that Courter says workers who have to get on the island are equipped with squirt guns. This way, if Ralph, Ebony, Eve or Emily decide to attack, which has happened in the past, they can just squirt them with water. It’s a simple, yet effective solution.
"They don't like water at all. Water is their kryptonite and they can't swim. So the island is like a monkey Alcatraz because they are stuck there."
Thousands of tourists come to see Monkey Island every year by car, boat and kayak, but many don’t know the real story behind Homosassa River’s Monkey Island. In fact, it all started as a misunderstanding in the 1960s.
Land developer G.A. “Furgy” Furgason, a major influencer in the build-out of the city of Homosassa, was concerned about a pile of rocks in the Homosassa River. The rocks hid below the surface and were unable to be seen by boaters at high tide which led people to crash into the rocks and badly damage the bottoms of their boats. Furgy instructed a dragline operator to “pile some dirt around those rocks so boaters would see them better.” But he left for an extended trip right before the dirt operation began.
When Furgy returned from his trip, he found that the dirt pile he ordered was now a small, barren island. Apparently, the dragline operator got a bit carried away with the instructions. In an effort to dress up what he considered to be an eyesore, he built a small lighthouse and planted trees on the island. Furgy had other business ventures going on during that time and one just so happened to be a wildlife attraction, which later became the Homosassa Wildlife State Park. Included in the attraction was a group of monkeys who were brought to the U.S. for use in perfecting the polio vaccine.
A few of those monkeys became quite the nuisance at the wildlife park, often escaping their entrapments, getting into visitors cars and biting tourists. Furgy said he often thought of sending the misbehaving monkeys to their own ‘Alcatraz,’ according to the Homosassa Riverside Resort. It was just good timing that the Homosassa River just added that new barren island by mistake. Furgy realized he has his own little Alcatraz and the mischievous monkeys found their new home.
Two of the original monkeys passed away. In 2006, Monkey Island’s owners adopted two new additions to round out the pack that call this island home. Although Ralph, Ebony, Emily and Eve are stranded on the island they live quite the spoiled lifestyle as Lucas Courter explained during our visit.
"I feed them twice a day. We have a veterinarian that comes out every couple months to check on them. I also put fresh towels in their hut - which also has a heater inside of it in case they get cold at night. So yes, they are very mean, spoiled rotten monkeys."
Visitors are encouraged to keep a safe distance from the island and to never pass the barrier. This is because the monkeys are very territorial and aren’t friendly. “The monkeys will jump on your boat, or flip you over in a kayak, or steal your paddle from you and run around with a paddle over their heads,” Courter said. Over the last two years he has had to save the day after kayakers ignored the signs.
Riverside Resorts owns the island and is in the process of renovating a waterfront restaurant where visitors can watch the monkey's antics while they eat. However, you don't have to visit Homosassa to see what's going on. The resort put up a live 24 hour camera feed for everyone to enjoy.