APOPKA, Fla. (WOFL FOX 35) - A population of monkeys native to Asia appears to be spreading in central Florida, according to researchers.
The most recent sighting of a Rhesus monkey was in the Orlando suburb of Apopka. The monkey was seen at the Max and Me Jamaican Bakery on Michael Gladden Blvd.
"I knew it was some sort of animal, and it turned and looked at us, and we were just in complete shock!" said Keri Locke. "We never thought we'd be seeing a monkey in the middle of the city!"
Locke said she watched as it hopped up on a fence Sunday morning, just after 8:30 a.m.
"It just kind of sat there. We took the pictures and video, and then it turned around and ran to the back of the building!"
"We take this very seriously and are looking into it. We encourage the public to report any sightings to assist us in evaluating this particular situation," said Greg Workman with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
The FWC has received previous reports of monkeys in the area. If residents spot a monkey, they should call the FWC Orlando Dispatch Center at 1-888-404-3922.
For more than 75 years, rhesus macaques have inhabited Silver Springs State Park in Ocala. That population had grown to roughly 200 monkeys in the park by late 2015, according to University of Florida biologists. New sightings have been reported miles away in Lake, Orange, and Volusia counties.
In September of 2015, a Rhesus monkey was spotted in Debary. Nadine Griscti saw the monkey run through her yard.
"It came around my house and ran across the street, right to my neighbor's house. It was freaky!" she said, describing the monkey as being tan in color. "It was huge, like the size of a mid-sized dog."
Two months following the DeBary incident, another monkey was seen in Lady Lake. While parents were waiting to pick up their kids in the front of The Villages Elementary School, some looked up and saw a rhesus monkey on the school's rooftop.
"My son was in the backseat said, 'Oh, look! What is that?'" explained Megan Grubb. "I said, 'It's a monkey!' and took a picture, because nobody believes there's a monkey at a school."
The monkey paced back and forth on the roof as parents snapped photos from the pickup line. As the crowd grew, the monkey jumped down, scurried across the parking lot and disappeared into nearby woods.
Weeks later, a homeowner reported seeing a monkey in a tree in her backyard in The Villages. It sat upright in the tree, eating berries.
The monkeys were brought to the Ocala park by a tour boat operator in the 1930s. The monkeys, bought from a New York wildlife dealer, initially were brought to an island on the Silver River, but they promptly swam across the water and thrived in nearby woods, a state historical timeline shows.
By 1963, the population had grown to 78 rhesus macaques, documents show.
A trapper working under state permits reported capturing 772 monkeys from the park between 1998 and 2012. The monkeys were sold to a biomedical research facility, but after a public outcry the practice stopped.
The monkeys can be dangerous to humans, as many carry the potentially-deadly herpes-B virus that can be transmitted through bites, scratches or contact with bodily fluids, Gottschalk said.
Experts caution against approaching or feeding the monkeys, which one Lady Lake animal control officer called "hostile by nature."
"If you are bitten or scratched, wash the wound immediately and seek medical attention according to CDC guidelines," Workman cautioned.
Some information taken from the Associated Press.