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Friday, 3 March, 2000, 23:27 GMT
Park culls monkey colony
Macaque monkeys
Playful Macaque monkeys were a popular attraction
An entire colony of monkeys at Woburn Safari Park has been culled after the discovery of a virus potentially deadly to humans.

Some 215 Rhesus Macaque monkeys were shot by six marksmen after tests revealed they were carrying the Simian Herpes B virus.

Chris Webster, chief executive of Woburn Safari Park, said the decision to cull the monkeys was taken after consulting authorities including the Health and Safety Executive and the zoo licensing authority.

"The 100% consensus was that we had no alternative," he said.

Rhesus Macaque
A colony of Rhesus Macaque monkeys had to be shot
He said they became aware of the virus following routine screening.

"The results came through on Thursday to show that the animals were carrying the Simian Herpes B virus."

The virus is potentially lethal to humans but there have only been 40 reported cases throughout the world.

The last known recorded death in this country from Herpes B was 25 years ago.

Mr Webster said he was satisfied no staff or members of the public were put at risk.

It was thought the virus could only be transmitted by a bite, but in the US it was passed from a Rhesus Macaque to a human through contact with liquids.

Popular attraction

Vet Martin Hosegood, who helps care for the Woburn animals, said the Simian Herpes B virus was quite common in the wild amongst Rhesus Macaque.

"It has been recorded in laboratory and research animals, but it has been very rare in zoo populations," he said.

"We did not have an outbreak of disease - what we had was a routine screening programme that turned up positive samples."

The monkeys were one of the most popular attractions at the Bedfordshire park and were famous for clambering over cars and coaches and ripping off aerials.

Mr Webster said the decision to cull the colony had left staff at the park in tears.

"Staff were depressed and sad and some broke into tears when we told them. It was very emotional," he said.

Lord Howland, grandson of the Duke of Bedford who owns the Woburn estate, said it had been an awful 24 hours.

"I feel desperately sorry for the people who have looked after the animals for a very long time and for the people who enjoyed coming round and seeing them," he said.

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