This weekend Longleat Safari Park’s monkey enclosure, is due to open after almost two years of being shut, following the discovery of a rare virus that’s fatal to humans.
In March 2008, one of the primates at the Wiltshire park was found to have a strain of herpes virus. A routine blood test found a single female rhesus macaque (Macaca mulatta) had tested positive for Simian Herpes B virus.
The problem for people is that monkeys can carry this virus without it showing any signs of illness. If we become infected we experience flu-like symptoms before the virus starts to attack our central nervous system.
Monkey Jungle was immediately closed and all 100 macaques were placed in quarantine. Tests on the rest of the group came back as negative, but park officials kept the area shut to ensure, “visitors were kept safe and to take proper care of these animals.”
The monkeys are regularly tested by the Health Protection Agency. Last year a further two monkeys tested “indeterminate” for the virus.
Simian herpes is rare and should not be confused with the everyday herpes simplex virus which commonly causes cold sores.
There have been 40 recorded cases in the last 60 years between 1933 and 1994. People can contract the virus if they come into contact with primate saliva, or are bitten, or scratched. There is no treatment for the infection and nearly 80 per cent of people who do contract the disease die as a result. It is a serious zoonotic threat.
How the monkeys contracted this virus is still a mystery to wardens as this primate group has lived in a “closed colony” for the last thirty years.
Thankfully the primates have now been given a clean bill of health and the new revamped monkey drive-through is ready to entertain the public once again. Just remember if there was ever a reason to keep your car windows closed, this is it!