Florida Monkeys? Surely I must be talking about a zoo, right? Nope! There are actually wild monkeys along the Silver River near Ocala, FL. The Silver River rhesus macaques monkeys were brought to Florida in 1938 by Colonel Tooey as an attraction for his jungle cruise ride. Contrary to popular myth, the monkeys were not brought in as extras for the filming of a Tarzan movie. The Silver River is wild and scenic, and you can almost hear Tarzan calling in the distance. But only 1 Tarzan movie was ever filmed along the Silver River. The monkey troupe easily escaped from the island that Colonel Tooey released them on as he was unaware that monkeys can jump from tree to tree as well as swim. Click the images to view larger.
The monkeys can be viewed by taking a kayak down the Silver River from Silver Springs State Park, but the best way is to take a ride with Captain Tom O’Lenick on Captain Tom’s Custom Charters. Captain Tom’s pontoon boat provides a stable platform for photography without the extra effort of paddling and protecting your camera gear from the water. Captain Tom provides a nice narration of the history of the Sliver River and knows the river quite intimately. He has an excellent track record of predicting when and where the monkeys might make an appearance. As we set off up the river on our monkey search, Jess, Paul, Joshua and I were all excited for what we might encounter.
As with any wild animal, a sighting is not guaranteed. And in fact, as we were nearing the end of our 4.5 hour river cruise, we had yet to find a single monkey despite Captain Tom’s unique “monkey call”. Finally we came across “The Lookout” as we motored back towards the boat launch. This lone monkey was about 100 yards away from the rest of the troupe. It is quite possible he is an outcast, or perhaps he is just keeping an eye on the river looking for any trouble that might be coming.
While we enjoyed shooting “The Lookout”, the real treat was just down the river where the troupe was busy feeding and playing along the river’s edge.
There were some people in kayaks and canoes on the river that were trying to entice the monkeys into their boat. Although monkeys don’t eat humans, they do bite if they think you have food. Based on those teeth, I don’t think I’d want a wild monkey in the boat with me!
While the adult monkeys were interesting to watch and provided some nice photographs, it was the younger monkeys that provided the bulk of the entertainment and the best images.
But the star of the day was the tiny baby monkey that was still nursing.
This little guy was just too cute to ignore!
Captain Tom does an excellent job of positioning the boat for photographers as well as shutting off the motor to eliminate vibrations. I brought home a card full of images, but only a handful will make the cut as keepers. Despite Captain Tom’s efforts to help us get great images, there is a lot of clutter along the river with cypress knees, tree branches and mottled sun to make it a difficult shoot. Plus despite our pleas, those darn monkeys just wouldn’t pose for us when and where we wanted them to! Still, we had a blast and I’m certain I’ll be going back again when the weather cools off a bit.