Scientists have rushed to save more than 1,000 monkeys that occupy Cayo Santiago, otherwise known as “Monkey Island,” in Puerto Rico.
Since the 1930s when scientists first brought the rhesus macaques to Puerto Rico, the island has served as an indispensable resource for studying primate behavior.
Hurricane Maria devastated Cayo Santiago, landing there first before going on to destroy buildings, cause flooding, and shut down the power grid across the U.S. territory. While the monkey population survived mostly unscathed, the category 5 storm destroyed the lush vegetation that provides them with their main food sources, including roots, fruit, seeds, and insects, HuffPost reported.
Aerial photos of the destruction show the once green island now brown and barren following high winds and flooding. Photographs have even captured the monkeys swimming to nearby islands to search for food, The Independent reported.
“This fragile population somehow weathered this awful storm, but we need to act quickly to save them and the important scientific possibilities they represent,” said Michael Platt, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, in a joint release published by Yale in cooperation with the universities working on the island.
“Unless we immediately rebuild the infrastructure on the island as well as the lives of the people that support it, this important resource may disappear,” he said.
Scientists mobilized to deliver food to the island and to rebuild the cisterns used to catch rainwater, according to the same HuffPost report. The researchers that work on the island, many of them from the University of Michigan and Yale, have also assisting in the humanitarian effort on nearby Punta Santiago, delivering food to residents who live about a 15-minute boat ride from Monkey Island.
Cayo Santiago is the oldest wild primate research center in the world, according to the same press release.