French officials on the Caribbean island of St. Maarten are looking for ways to combat an invasion of green monkeys, which they blame for threatening the tropical tourism hotspot’s fragile biodiversity, local authorities said.

The primates, which originated in Africa, are reproducing at an alarming rate, threatening the survival of some native species, they said.

The island of St. Maarten, shared between France and the Netherlands, is a popular tourist destination with sandy beaches and diverse wildlife.

Green monkeys, which originally arrived on St. Maarten as pets owned by foreign colonizers or on merchant ships, have spread across the island with remarkable adaptability.

Dutch authorities recently took the radical step of ordering the destruction of 450 primates, named after their golden-green fur.

NGO Nature Foundation St. Maarten will be tasked with capturing green monkeys for culling as part of a three-year plan to curb their population growth.

“The number of monkeys on St. Maarten will continue to increase unless action is taken, and the consequences for St. Maarten’s native ecosystems will be severe,” the foundation wrote in a press release in December. “Invasive species wreak havoc on native species, especially in island nations. Strong marine and terrestrial environments with healthy biodiversity are key to combating climate change.”

The foundation also cited a recent study by St. Kitts, which found that the current number of invasive monkeys in 2020 is estimated at 40,000 individuals — a figure equal to the human population on St. Kitts.

French authorities said they were still investigating the facts.

A dramatic increase in the population of animal species can affect the region’s biodiversity, said Julien Shalifour, a scientist at the island’s nature reserve.

The monkeys have developed a reputation among local residents for aggressive behavior towards residents and pets, as well as for overturning garbage cans, destroying gardens and defecating on people’s property.

Non-native monkeys are not picky eaters and will consume almost anything, including bird eggs, crops, ornamental and fruit plants, and trees.

“They benefit from an abundance of food due to the abundance of rain, which in turn increases the opportunity for reproduction,” Chalifour said. “We cannot allow them to continue to breed. They are everywhere.”

According to him, in 2017, after Hurricane Irma, there was a noticeable increase in the population of green monkeys.

“These omnivorous mammals then found themselves in an environment without a food source, which forced them to spread out to feed,” the scientist said.

Officials appointed zoologist Natalie Duporge to conduct an “environmental impact assessment” before deciding on next steps.

The French half of St. Maarten became France’s own overseas territory in 2007, having previously been administratively owned by Guadeloupe, France’s largest Caribbean possession.

In 2020, its population was just over 32,000.

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