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The (Really) Wild Monkeys Of South Texas

Photo by Clint Hilton

It seems unlikely, but the harsh environment of South Texas plays host to a large population of Japanese Snow Monkeys. They’ve been housed in a sanctuary near Dilley for many years. But stories continue to circulate about Japanese Snow Monkeys being spotted in the wild. It’s a story that goes back almost 50 years.

The year is 1972, the Vietnam war is dragging on. A South Texas Rancher named Edward Dryden heard about the plight of a troupe of Japanese Snow Monkeys, which had become a nuisance in a small Japanese town. The locals wanted them gone.

Dryden wasn’t an animal rights activist. In fact he planned on reselling some of the primates to U.S. medical researchers. About 150 monkeys were transported to his ranch near Encinal.

And then the story gets complicated.

The plan to sell the monkeys didn’t work out.

Many of the monkeys died from the South Texas heat, not to mention predators such as coyotes and rattlesnakes.

The survivors learned to adapt. So much so, they began to reproduce and became a nuisance to nearby ranchers. Dryden died a few years later. And his monkeys, well, most of them, were rounded up and put in a sanctuary near Dilley.

But, here’s the question. Are there still Japanese snow monkeys roaming wild in South Texas?

"We can't tell anybody we saw monkeys that everybody thinks were crazy. We tell 'em we saw a monkey in South Texas. They're going to know we're crazy," said rancher Glen Garrison.

His first monkey sighting was near Los Angeles, Texas in the mid 1980s while he was driving with his friend.

"Stopped in at Ruby's Lounge, got a six pack of beer. We were heading, I think it's 469... And look up in front and I saw this thing go across the road," Garrison recalled.

His companion thought it was a bobcat.

"I said, 'It was not a bobcat. There's a monkey,'" he told his friend. "And there was a windmill there on the side road. That's where the monkey was going. He was going to get a drink."

Some time later, they had another sighting.

"We were east of Pearsall just going down the road and there were some people stopped and they were lookin And so we stopped to and it was a momma monkey and a baby up a mesquite tree," said Garrison

Fast forward to present day.

"They’re there. That's not like a question there. They're all over the Dilley area," said Chester Moore. editor of Texas Fish and Game Magazine.

He said hunters have sent him photos of monkeys within the last three years.

Wildlife consultant Marshall Bryant has seen them, too.

"I've definitely caught 'em on game cameras, I've definitely ridden around some ranches around Dilley, Cotulla, even as far as Tilden and seen ‘em here and there," Bryant said. "But most of the places for my knowledge that have them kind of harbor them."

That's right, he says some people harbor the monkeys. In other words keep out food and water for them so they’ll hang around.

"I know the one ranch on my mind. It's like they're very secretive about the fact that they have them there and they got a bunch of them and they're pretty cool, you know," said Bryant. "You can go there and see 15 to 40 at a time."

Ranchers who’ve fed and watered the snow monkeys may have helped them survive. But, Chester Moore said there are all kinds of other non-native wild animals that have done well in Texas, without much help. Animals such as Axis deer and Nilgai antelopes, which are both from India. Even warthogs from Sub-Saharan Africa that escaped exotic game ranches are thriving in some areas of Texas.

So if you’re walking through the south Texas brush and hear a sound, or maybe catch a glimpse of a Japanese Snow Monkey — consider yourself lucky.

Click here to see Chester Moore's blog about Snow Monkeys.

Jerry Clayton can be reached at jerry@tpr.org or on Twitter at @jerryclayton.