For the residents of Citrus County, “Monkey Island” is no foreign term. Located in the Homosassa River, this rarity is definitely not one to miss. One is guaranteed to spot the family of 5 while on the boat, passing by, or while enjoying a drink at The Florida Cracker Kitchens’ Monkey Bar.
Monkey Island – The Beginning
The Island, starting as a random rock formation, was developed by G.A Furgason in the 1960’s. Because the rock was not completely visible to boaters, multiple accidents occurred. Furgason instructed his crew to cover the rock with a pile of dirt from his nearby job site (Ellie Schiller Homosassa Wildlife State Park), to prevent any further accidents. Thus, creating the small island that stands to this day. The crew responsible for the job brought in much more dirt than necessary. The end result was a mess that many considered an eye-sore. The developer then placed the lighthouse and a handful of trees on the new island to improve the view.
How did the monkeys get on the island?
Brought to Homosassa to perfect the polio vaccine for experiment, they were then donated to the local park at completion. While these trouble-making monkeys were causing havoc at the newly constructed wildlife attraction- escaping their enclosures, breaking into vehicles, and stealing candy from children, Furgasun had an epiphany. The developer had made the perfect monkey enclosure right in the middle of the Homosassa River. These mammals being brought in by Dr. John Hamlet, were ill mannered and extremely obnoxious, making the secluded island a perfect home for them to live. It allows visitors to enjoy them without becoming victims of their mischief.
About the Famous Homosassa Monkeys
The original family of 5 consisted of 3 spider monkeys and 2 squirrel monkeys. They thoroughly enjoyed their time at this monkey detention center much more than they did at the park. Though, this was not successful on its first go-round, through trial-and-error, they were able to construct the perfect home for these primates. They did so by adding different trees, for the first round tempted the monkeys with tasty palm tree hearts, resulting in the death of all of the palms. In their place, less-edible, cedars supply the ideal foliage for the habitat. A home for the monkeys was also added so that the inhabitants were able to find shelter during acclimate weather.
Unfortunately, all of the original monkeys passed away in 2003 and since been replaced by a new family so they can play and enjoy “hanging out” for the tourists to admire.
The current residents of the island’s names are; Ebony, Emily, Eve, Ralph and Sassy.
Monkey Island’s Future
According to the website, historicmonkeyisland.com:
“A not-for-profit, organization is purposefully working to ensure that the spider monkeys that inhabit the island will be well taken care of now and in the years to come. The island’s history dates back to the mid 1960’s and the mission of the new Board is to ensure that preservation of the island and its primate population will benefit future generations.
Plans are underway to renovate and make badly needed repairs to the hut where the monkeys shelter, along with lighthouse improvements and will also involve upgrading the surrounding island barrier. In addition to conservation efforts the Board is responsible for the primates’ care. This includes their health, safety and well-being. We are asking for your help in safeguarding this unique asset in our Citrus County community for the next 40 years and beyond.”
Monkey Island Renovations
This site urges people to donate to the reconstruction, development and upkeep of this sacred island and tourist attraction. This organization plans on spending $150,000 to bring the habitat to USDA standards and possibly add more monkeys. For those who wish to donate, please visit the website above for contribution details.
Today, Monkey Island remains one of the most unique sites along Florida’s Nature Coast. Taken ownership in 2019 by Blake Lowman and his family, he explains how he never thought that he would own an island of monkeys. The Lowman Family and community have big plans to maintain Monkey Island, he claims “for future generations of monkeys to live and for the community and visitors to enjoy”. Doing so means feeding the moneys fresh fruit, vegetables and a USDA approved “monkey chow” with a blend of nutrients that the monkeys require, twice a day! The employees of the marina who feed them are the only ones who can legally step foot on the island. They do this to feed the monkeys as well as make necessary repairs to the island and its structures.
Visit the Famous Monkey Island
Take note, when visiting these primates, this is a “Look-but-don’t-touch” attraction. Visitors can rent kayaks, canoes and boats to adventure out and around the island. But remember, you cannot land, the island is under strict video surveillance, and legal consequences will follow. Do not let this discourage you from capturing their cuteness via photographs. You may be able to catch these playful primates “monkeying around” for a memory that lasts forever.
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