A former top D.C. cop says the city’s monkey population needs to be ‘deconstructed’

Just how many monkeys are in Washington?

Most agree that there are somewhere between 10 and 35 legally held monkeys in the area, even though they have yet to be convicted of a crime. (Reports of D.C.’s monkey problem first emerged in October when local authorities removed one man’s gray macaque, which they said was too aggressive.)

Whatever the number, David Herring, former chief of police of Fairfax County, Virginia, thinks the living environment for the animals should be improved.

“Many of them, they’re never out of a box,” Herring told WJLA last month, as he toured one of the group’s warehouses. “They’re never out of the cages. They’re never outside.”

Herring’s comments came as a result of heightened anxiety about the monkeys, of which nearly all live at the D.C. Monkey Rescue & Adoption Center near Dupont Circle.

“I have to live in a cage,” the center’s director, Leslie James, tells WJLA.

Over the last couple of years, the city and neighborhood groups have grown increasingly concerned about the neighborhood’s monkey population, which they say has constituted a safety threat.

But the monkeys – more specifically, the D.C. Monkey Rescue & Adoption Center’s monkeys – are also popular with tourists, as people take photos with them for souvenirs or to add to their feeders. Their housing, researchers have found, helps free the monkeys from stress.

One reason for the concern over the animals’ well-being is that the owners of most the monkeys being held by the rescue center are not licensed to handle them. (The center’s facility is inspected annually by the Department of Health, which issues permits for monkeys.) Instead, the monkeys are likely being kept at unlicensed zoos, nature centers, studios and facilities.

There is no proof, for example, that such facilities are keeping the monkeys improperly, but the city of Fairfax has cited at least one facility for “unlawful possession of wildlife.”

According to Herring, the failure to license the monkeys has hampered police investigations into cases of public safety concerns.

“You don’t have the record,” he said. “They don’t have the necessary authorization to take care of that population.”

As she dealt with handlers of the estimated 35 monkeys at her property, James took WJLA for a tour of her monkey warehouse, where “babies” and “children” could be found frolicking and ignoring their captivity. She’s hoping to be able to temporarily relocate the entire population, including the “babies,” so she can turn her attention to caring for some of the rest.

“The problem with them not being licensed is that they’re not tracked,” she said. “They have no licensing number.”

With a short shelter, there are quite a few monkeys at the center. Many babies and newborns are brought from within the community. James estimates her local population as being in the low 30s.

“When there’s a lot of small babies, that’s very dangerous,” she said.

The center has gotten rid of many of the younger monkeys. While some have been bought by groups, for example, when the animals turn 18 or 19 years old, they’re “hand-raised,” which means they’re not placed in for-profit enterprises. In D.C., individuals must sign up for the chance to keep monkeys at the center, James told WJLA.

Whatever the center’s future looks like, James says, the small monkey population – and Herring’s initial comments that the monkeys should be moved to a home for the elderly or other facilities – will continue to drive her.

“It’s really heartbreaking,” she said. “They don’t need to live in cages. They’re so delicate, they’re so cute. They have so much love to give.”

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