Monkey Business in Havana

Rosa Martinez


HAVANA TIMES — A few days ago, I rifled through several local newspapers in search of a topic I could debate with my students. After going through a number of copies of Granma and Juventud Rebelde, I came upon a rather unusual story.

Laughter and horror don’t usually go hand in hand, but that was exactly what the article in Juventud Rebelde, titled The Fugitive Monkeys, provoked in me.

According to Patricia Caceres, who wrote the article, back in 2002, a primate couple belonging to the Cholorecebus aethiops family, popularly known as green monkeys, escaped from Havana’s National Zoo.

Initially, the animals remained within an area close to the zoo but, following a number of failed attempts at capturing the animals, they fled from the place and ultimately settled in the gardens of the Ecology and Systematics Institute.

This is a quiet area with many lush fruit trees. There, the couple was able to procreate and, currently, there are approximately 25 monkeys living in the area.

At first, the locals were amused by these African specimens, living out in the wild in their general vicinity. Laughter, however, soon gave way to tragedy when the pack began to feed on corn, guavas, mangos, string peas, tomatoes, plantains and mameys grown by farmers there, who had invoked Decree Law 300, which gives farmers to right to use idle State lands on an usufruct basis.

The incredible part of the story is not how these animals managed to thrive on Cuban soil (that is understandable, given the characteristics of our country, and the fact these animals are omnivorous, that is, that they feed on plants, fruits and small animals).

What are truly surprising are the explanations the management of the zoo have offered in the course of more than 10 years to justify the fact these animals have never been captured and continue to cause problems.

These range from references to the intelligence of the monkeys (something we’re all well aware of), the yellowish-green color of their fur (which allows them to camouflage themselves in the forest and avoid detection) and even the high costs of the tranquilizer darts.

I don’t doubt the skills of these primates, which are considered the smartest in the animal kingdom and the evolutionary precursors of our own species. But, for me, all of these arguments show nothing other than the irresponsibility, negligence and procrastination that characterize us when it is question of solving problems that affect the population.

If, instead of fruits and small animals, these monkeys ate humans, there would be no one left in Havana today to tell the story.

Rosa Martínez

Rosa Martinez: I am another Havana Times contributing writer, university professor and mother of two beautiful and spoiled girls, who are my greatest joy. My favorite passions are reading and to write and thanks to HT I’ve been able to satisfy the second. I hope my posts contribute towards a more inclusive and more just Cuba. I hope that someday I can show my face along with each of my posts, without the fear that they will call me a traitor, because I’m not one.

One thought on “Monkey Business in Havana

  • On the other hand, your problem could be far worse! In South and Central Florida pythons have proliferated; there are now tens of thousands of them, some as large as 15 or 20 feet long. They have eliminated many animals in the Florida Everglades almost to the point of extinction and have severely upset the ecosystem. Originally imported from Asia as exotic pets, when some of them grew too large their irresponsible owners turned them loose. One growing problem (as exemplified by a story I read about incidents in Fort Myers, Florida) is that these Asian pythons have now developed a taste for small (and even medium-sized) dogs! Apparently “man’s best friend” has now become the python’s best friend, too!

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