Imagine you’re on a casual hike. You’re in a wooded area behind your neighborhood, or you’ve taken the family out to a state park or wilderness. The glory of nature surrounds you, but then you see something you would never expect. A monkey swinging from a tree.
Did you get lost on the trail? Is your mind playing tricks on you? Is what you saw the result of an overactive imagination or dehydration? It could be. But what if? What if you actually did see a chimpanzee or another ape or monkey hanging out in the woods where you complete your normal hikes?
According to game trail cameras from local landowners and eyewitness testimonies, this exact phenomenon has been occurring in Central Texas. Does this mean that Central Texas has a native population of primates? According to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, this is not the case. However, there may be some other explanations.
Research Center Houses Primates
Photo: @liamcooper101 via Twenty20
Some researchers have suggested one explanation is that the primates could be escaped research subjects. Bastrop is home to the Michale E. Keeling Center, a branch of MD Anderson’s cancer research department. According to the center’s webpage , they conduct cancer research using a variety of different primates. Along with housing chimpanzees, the center also conducts research using baboons, rhesus monkeys, owl monkeys, and squirrel monkeys.
Some residents who live near the research site have alleged they’ve seen various primates on the grounds outside and the animals will be seen climbing fences or on the roofs of buildings in the compound. Some locals even think that not much would prevent the subjects from climbing the fence and venturing out into the wild.
Monkeys as Pets
Photo: @emma.neems via Twenty20
Another explanation is that the primate sightings could’ve been escaped or released pets. While not common, primates are bred, bought, and kept as pets. Often these animals are sold to zoos and other research centers. While laws about exotics require a special license for someone to own a chimpanzee, there is no specific law or license required in Texas for an individual resident to own other types of monkeys.
Small Migrations from South Texas
Photo: @deev13 via Twenty20
A third explanation connects one other odd Texas phenomenon to the sightings in Bastrop and Caldwell Counties. The South Texas town of Dilley is home to the largest free-roaming monkey sanctuary in the United States. Before the sanctuary was established, 150 snow monkeys were bought by a Dilley rancher, and several of them escaped while being relocated. The theory is that over the years, these isolated escapees have mated in small numbers and gradually migrated north.
If you think you’ve ever seen a primate while on a relaxing hike in Central Texas, it’s possible your eyes were not playing tricks on you.