Hurricane mauled PR’s renowned Monkey Island research center

A monkey drinks from a puddle in Cayo Santiago, Puerto Rico, Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017. Cayo Santiago island is home to more than 1000 monkeys and has been a primate research center for the last 79 years. Primates on this island are regarded as some of the best studied monkeys in the world. Hurricane Maria destroyed the island and the monkey’s habitats. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

CAYO SANTIAGO, Puerto Rico (AP) — As thousands of troops and government workers struggle to restore normal life to Puerto Rico, a small group of scientists is racing to save more than 1,000 monkeys whose brains may contain clues to some of the most important mysteries of the human mind.

One of the first places Hurricane Maria hit in the U.S. territory Sept. 20 was Cayo Santiago, known as Monkey Island, a 40-acre outcropping off the east coast that is one of the world’s most important sites for research into how primates think, socialize and evolve.

The storm destroyed virtually everything on the island, stripping it of vegetation, wrecking the monkeys’ metal drinking troughs and crushing the piers that University of Puerto Rico workers use to bring in bags of monkey chow — brown pellets of processed food that complete the primates’ natural vegetation diet.

“All of our tools were destroyed,” said Angelina Ruiz Lambides, the director of the Cayo Santiago facility. “Does FEMA cover this? Does the university’s insurance cover this? I don’t know.”

The island’s history as a research center dates to 1938, when the man known as the father of American primate science brought a population of Indian rhesus macaques to the United States. Clarence Ray Carpenter wanted a place with the perfect mix of isolation and free range, where the monkeys could be studied living much as they do in nature without the difficulties of tracking them through the wild.

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