Morgan Island, South Carolina
Coordinates: Morgan Island is one of the Sea Islands, located in Beaufort County, South Carolina (just north of Beaufort, South Carolina). It is also known as Monkey Island due to its colony of free-ranging rhesus monkeys, established in 1979.
Morgan Island is a 4,489 acre marsh-land island that consists of 635 acres of upland (areas on the island that are dry). The island is located between the Morgan and Coosaw rivers and borders the St. Helena Sound to the South and Parrot Creek to the North (Klopchin). The marsh-land area includes three major tidal creeks as well as other small creeks. Morgan Island is an uninhabited island that is home to a breeding colony of approximately 3,500 free-ranging, Indian-origin Rhesus monkeys (Maier). There is a 370-acre portion of upland that supports a semi-tropical maritime forest where the monkey colony primarily resides.
Historically, the island has been uninhabited due to its location and distance from the mainland. The island's layout consists mainly of marsh-land, but does have 635 acres of higher ground. Originally, the monkey colony now located on Morgan Island was located in La Parguera, Puerto Rico at the Caribbean Primate Research Center. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were incidents of the free-ranging monkeys escaping while infected with the herpes B virus. Although the herpes B virus is not harmful to the monkeys, once transmitted to a human the virus infection has an almost 80% fatality rate (Shemcreeks). The CDC report stated that there were outbreaks among locals when the monkeys became overpopulated. Puerto Rico was alarmed by this, and South Carolina stepped in to offer an island for research. South Carolina offered uninhabited Morgan Island for the monkeys to be housed. In 1979, over 1,400 animals were relocated to Morgan Island.
How the island works
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In an article written in 2002 by Jeanette Klopchin about the environmental impacts of the free-ranging colony, the island was reportedly operated and owned by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR). The island is operated through the SCDNR to provide a “natural outdoor laboratory for estuarine research and education”. Besides the colony on the Silver River in Florida, the upland area of the island is home to the only other free-ranging colony of rhesus macaque monkeys in the United States. The US Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) owns the monkeys, and had a long standing contract with a private firm, LABS of Virginia, INC (which is now operated under the name Alpha Genesis, a Yemassee, SC based research company). Alpha Genesis did lease a major portion of the highlands on Morgan Island for the monkeys. Alpha Genesis’s contract was to maintain the population of monkeys for biomedical research and testing. Today, Charles River Laboratories holds the contract for the monkeys on Morgan Island.
Around 2004 and 2005, Morgan Island was incorporated in to the National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR) system. NERR partners with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and coastal states to study and protect vital coastal and estuarine resources (nerrs.noaa.gov). This is the most probable time that Charles River Laboratories took over the contract of the monkeys. There was public controversy about the mission of the lab and the contract of the monkeys under the NERR system because the island was not accessible to the public, as the other NERR sites were. The lab at the time, Alpha Genesis, and the SCDNR were not supported in their decision to keep the island the way it was (unaccessible). This is the most probable explanation for why the contract of the monkeys changed hands from Alpha Genesis to Charles River Laboratories. As of 2002, Morgan Island was a part of the ACE Basin NERR System. Under the new lease with Charles River Laboratories the island and the monkeys are no longer under this system (Maier). The monkeys on the island are owned by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) which is a part of the National Institutes of Health. The SCDNR leases the island to Charles River Laboratories, which manages the colony for NIAID (Maier). Besides Klopchin’s study of the environmental effects of the monkeys to the island, and of inhabited close-proximity locations, there is no other research done on the island.
- Jeanette Klopchin, Paul Sandifer, Jill Stewart ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACTS OF A FREE-RANGING RHESUS MONKEY COLONY (MACCA MULATTA) ON MORGAN ISLAND,SOUTH CAROLINA
- Lewis Turner "Monkey Island, South Carolina: Fact or Fiction", WLTX, May 21, 2010.
- Holly Bounds, "Morgan Island: Beaufort County's Island of Monkeys", WSAV-TV, April 30, 2012.
- Bo Peterson, "Morgan Island gains higher public profile", The Post and Courier, December 19, 2005. Copy available at HighBeam Research (subscription required).
- Taub DM, Mehlman PT (April 1989). "Development of the Morgan Island rhesus monkey colony". P R Health Sci J 8 (1): 159–69. PMID 2780958.