St. Maarten plans to cull its population of invasive vervet monkeys, considered a nuisance in the Dutch island territory in the eastern Caribbean, though some are questioning the strategy. There are at least 450 vervet monkeys on the Dutch side of the island shared with France's Saint-Martin, where they first arrived from Africa as exotic pets around the 17th century, according to a 2020 survey conducted by the Nature Foundation St. Maarten, per the Guardian. However, the foundation believes the population has increased significantly since then.
It "will continue to grow if no measures are taken, and the consequences to Sint Maarten's native ecosystems will be severe," according to the foundation, which will receive $55,000 annually from the government to eradicate the population over three years. It notes locals have been complaining about the monkeys, which have no natural enemies, "raiding their crops and destroying their livelihood." Additionally, foundation manager Leslie Hickerson tells St. Maarten's Daily Herald that vervet monkeys are "a threat to other species on the island" and "eat eggs from native birds."
Research shows that culling invasive animals, which are a major driver of biodiversity loss, is an effective way to protect island wildlife. But Dave Du Toit, founder of the Vervet Monkey Foundation in South Africa, tells the Guardian that a "better" and "more publicly acceptable" approach would be to sterilize the monkeys. The Nature Foundation considered that, according to Hickerson. She tells the Guardian that it "proposed two management options when requesting funding for these activities, one of which was a sterilization program and one which was a population management program."
She adds, "The funding received to execute the project was the minimum requested in order to start managing the population." The BBC previously reported that mass sterilization of monkeys "poses practical and financial challenges." Omar Ottley, St. Maarten's former minister of tourism, economic affairs, transportation, and telecommunication, signed off on the plan, which involves training from a trapping expert in nearby St. Kitts, which counts as many invasive monkeys as it does humans, per the Herald. Once trapped, the monkeys will be sedated and euthanized, the outlet reports. (Read more invasive species stories.)