As Hurricane Maria barreled across the Caribbean last week, one of the first places to get caught in the eye of the storm was Cayo Santiago, a small island off Puerto Rico’s southeastern coast that is populated only by monkeys.
These aren’t just any monkeys, however. The 1,000 free-ranging rhesus macaques that make their homes on Cayo Santiago — also known as Monkey Island — inhabit the world’s oldest wild primate research center. Since 1938, when their ancestors were shipped there from Asia, scientists from around the globe have flocked to this tiny island in the Caribbean to study primate behavior, physiology and psychology.
Researchers at Cayo Santiago recorded the sounds made by female macaques and concluded they employed baby talk with infants, behavior that was thought to be exclusively human. Others observed females over long periods to detect subtle changes in skin color correlated with sexual receptivity.
Now an international group of researchers are joining forces to save Monkey Island, and its human caretakers, in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, whose 150 mile-per-hour winds whipped across Cayo Santiago and the nearby community of Punta Santiago, home to many of the Caribbean Primate Research Center’s employees and researchers. Though all the monkeys have been accounted for, the hurricane ravaged much of their home territory, as well as that of their human neighbors.
“Many adjectives have been used by colleagues to describe the situation there, including ‘catastrophic,’ ‘total destruction,’ ‘devastating’ and ‘apocalyptic,’” said Amanda Accamando, who worked at the CPRC from 2004 to 2007. Along with Lauren Brent, a lecturer with the University of Exeter who has conducted research on Cayo Santiago for more than 10 years, Accamando has helped raise almost $29,000 for CPRC employees and their families.
Accamando told Yahoo News that she and Brent have been in direct contact with Angelina Ruiz-Lambides, the associate director of Cayo Santiago, to identify employees’ most pressing needs and how to best direct their donations. The town of Punta Santiago suffered severe destruction as a result of the hurricane. Located approximately 40 miles from San Juan, it is one of the many communities that became almost unreachable in the wake of the storm.
The homes of at least two CPRC employees…