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Discover Morgan Island: A Unique Primate Sanctuary on the Carolina Coast

Located off the shores of South Carolina, Morgan Island is a somewhat isolated retreat that’s home to the world’s largest grouping of rhesus monkeys, numbering almost 4,000. The island, though dotted with beautiful scenery, has been strictly closed to human visits since it serves as one of the most highly protected research facilities of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

There is an interesting history behind the monkey residents of Morgan Island. Formerly based at the Caribbean Primate Research Center in Puerto Rico, they were relocated in the late 1970s after they had evidence of bunches of times passed pathogens to the local human community. Following the cessation of the Indian monkey export program, the U.S. government took advantage of the situation to set up a closed breeding colony on the isolated Morgan Island.

The island is larger than 400 acres and belongs to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. The ideal environment is set for the rhesus monkeys; however, the management lies with Alpha Genesis, one of the world’s largest monkey breeders, and the population has flourished to an estimated 750 newborns added each year.

While the monkeys’ presence is highly controlled, their importance reaches much further than Morgan Island. The six hundred or so primates here have played a big role in medical and scientific research, from the quest for an AIDS cure to treatments for polio and even bioterrorism. Several hundred monkeys will be carefully picked each year and sent off the island to foster some very important, life-saving research.

The only way interested outsiders can even see Morgan Island’s freaky residents is on guided tour boats leaving the nearby city of Beaufort. No one else is allowed on the island; in fact, it’s strictly forbidden and could also be extremely dangerous, for the monkeys are highly territorial and defensive of their domain.

A haunted place of animal testing controversies, the Morgan Island monkey colony also serves as a critical facility for researchers who seek improvements to human health and the vanquishing of deadly diseases. This remote primate sanctuary is a living laboratory, enhancing knowledge about our closest genetic relatives in ways that protect both the monkeys and the nearby communities.

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