By Peter Karsner  January 9, 2012 

In 1949 I started working at the "Chimp Farm" as a guide for the tourists explaining the origins and habits of the various chimps, monkeys and assorted inhabitants from around the world.

The farm was also known as the Anthropoid Ape Research Foundation.

The Dennis family (close cousins of FDR)owned the compound where the main function was the extraction of blood from the adult chimps for medical research.

To attract the "Everglades Tour Boats" to dock at the compound, an alligator wrestling pit was built along with a replica of a Seminole village.

Peter Karsner Wrestling AlligatorPeter Karsner Wrestling Alligator

A family of Seminole Indians would drive in from the Reservation west of Dania, and sit on the chickees and sell Indian souvenirs to the boat tourists.

A chickee is a platform the Florida Indians lived on before they moved to standard housing. 

Comedian Bert Lahr, Chimp, and Peter KarsnerComedian Bert Lahr, Chimp, and Peter Karsner

When I would wrestle, the hawker would tell the tourists I was the only white boy raised by the Seminoles and didn't speak English.

The tips were great then and today the stories make for fun cocktail party chatter.

Now that I've reached age seventy-seven and still have all my digits, I'm content to 'grunt' a gator up to the boat to entertain my guests here on the Withlacoochee River. :o)

Note from Florida Back Roads Travel:

The Dania Chimpanzee Farm closed when Florida Power and Light bought the property in 1956.

Peter: thanks a lot for sharing this story with us. It's great to hear from somebody who was actually there, wrestled gators and survived! 

Comments From People Who Have Read This Article

Oldest Comment on Bottom

Noc 8, 2016

Does anyone remember Ernie Tobler at the farm??? 
by: Bill Tobler 

Around 1948 - 1952, my father, Ernie Tobler has pictures of the farm with my mother Ruth Tobler. I was about 2 years old at the time. Also, I believe he worked there for a while.


Nov 07, 2016

Monkey Project 
by: Missy Williams 

Hello! I'm the Ph.D. candidate studying the monkeys. I've established this site as a long term project so I will be out there indefinitely. If you have any questions about the project feel free to email me at daniabeachvervetproject@gmail.com or mosmissy23@gmail.com.


Nov 07, 2016

Mangrove Vervets 
by: Jeff Fish 

There is still a troop roaming from Dania Beach Blvd north to whats left of the mangroves in the port. There are also a couple spots where company employees and private citizens still feed them.

I met the guy who trapped out the majority of them and it was very heated but he said he had a permit from Fish and Game. He told me he got anywhere from five to eight hundred dollars apiece for them. They were sold to research labs.

Combined with him, the port expanding and the loss of hundreds of acres of virgin mangrove, I'm surprised there are the few that are left.

Does any one remember the spider monkeys at Birch State Park? There was a bar off the beach at the south end of the Birch estate and every one would feed them. Cute little guys. Have not seen one in years.


Nov 03, 2016

To Greg 
by: Peter 

They had established a colony in the Australian Pines just north of what is now the parking lot up to the Port. I was told that a grad student was doing a research project on them about a year ago so i will assume you can still find them.


Nov 01, 2016

Where To See Vervets 
by: Jeff Fish 

For those of you who want to see where the monkeys are today in Dania, I can show you a couple spots. No trappers! Legit good reasons only.

Contact Jeff Fish, bluestoneservant@gmail.com


Oct 30, 2016

Dania Wild Monkeys 
by: Gregg L. Friedman MD 

What is the best location to see the wild monkeys in Dania Beach?

Feb 28, 2016

Chimp Farm 
by: Jeff Fish 

Hi! So great to hear about the chimpanzee farm. My dad took me when I was a small boy in the 50's. 

You might not believe this but I swear it's true. In the 60's my dad and I were on or around the old site of the farm to buy plants for his landscape business as there was a nursery there then. My dad and I were facing south and the proprietor was facing us when an ape not a monkey (I swear it was a chimpanzee) dropped out of a tree and was looking at us.

My dad said LOOK! The ape quickly moved into the brush as the guy was turning around to look and missed it. We swore to him what we saw but he thought we were nuts or had seen a monkey but my dad and I still talk about it today. Dad's 89 and is a native to Fort Lauderdale and my grandfather came here in the 20's.


I am a cousin of John Ash 
by: Lou Lenz 

I am a first cousin once-removed of John Ash who came from McNabb, Illinois. I spent 2 weeks there visiting in the summer of '56. I remember Amelie and Carol (if I'm not mistaken). 

I have a recollection of one of the trainers by the name of Armond Hammer, supposedly the son of Armond Hammer who founded Occidental Petroleum. Don't know if that was bogus or not. 

I remember one of the big chimps was called Batista and another was Claudia who loved to smoke Lucky Strike cigarettes (which most of the trainers smoked). 

I remember the alligator wrestler could crush a beer can with one hand. I would love to know what happened to all of you. You can reach me via Facebook. 

EDITOR SAYS:  Thanks for sharing the great memories, Lou. In the small world category, my college roommate and fellow basketball player at the University of Wisconsin was from McNabb. Not many people are.


Sep 15, 2014
Withlacoochee River
by: Patty Hart 

My family moved to Dania in the late 1940's and I remember the Chimp Farm. I am still here and now own Wynnhaven Riverside with my family on the Withlacoochee River. If you are ever in the area stop & see Robbie & Jeff , my sister & brother in law. They are going to look you up.

Thank you for your information regarding Dania Chimpanzee Farm. 

Vervet monkeys 
by: Peter 

Yes, I can help you. Peterkarsner@gmail.net


Jun 17, 2014
Vervet monkeys in Dania Beach 
by: Missy 

Hello! Im excited to have found this site. I am researching the history of the vervet monkeys in Dania Beach for my PhD. Can anyone confirm that the vervet monkey population today started from a few that escaped the Chimp Farm? I can email photos if needed. Any help or information is greatly appreciated. Thank you!!


Nov 18, 2013
Snack Bar 
by: Bob 

My family ran the snack bar at the Chimpanzee farm. I cannot recall exact time but it was around 1956 or so. I also went to school with Emily Ash the daughter of the owners. Were you there then too?

E-Mail Address: bobkap48@gmail.com


Oct 24, 2013
Chimp Farm information 
by: Peter Karsner 

I am very sorry to learn Annette and David Denis have passed away. Annette was a beautiful brunette and David a most handsome man. They made quite the attractive couple. 

If Greg Mango of NYC, wants to contact me at 352 535 4144, I would be happy to tell him about my experiences while working at the Chimp Farm.

It's interesting that my wrestling picture continues to baffle some folks. I have quite a few more wrestling pics that I could make available if anyone is interested in viewing them. 


Oct 24, 2013
by: Michelle Denis 

Hi All - 

Dave and Annette Denis were my parents - they have both passed on. I have just a few clarifications to add:

Dennis is incorrect - it is Denis

The Denis family were direct descendants of Theodore Roosevelt - not FDR

While I'm not sure if the photo is of my father or not (hard to tell but probably not)I have seen photos of him wrestling alligators and also Himalayan Bears.

There is currently a gentleman doing research on the Chimp Farm/Anthropology Center named Greg Mango of NYC. I haven't been able to provide him much information, but perhaps some of you can?

It's great to see the family legacy still alive, even if only in cyberspace!

Michelle Denis, San Diego


Aug 07, 2013
Aging Primates 
by: Peter Karsner 

The photo is of me.

I do not recall David ever wrestling while I was at the Chimp Farm. 

When David and Annette Dennis returned to the Chimp Farm(I believe it was in 1952), Bill Mann who had been managing the Farm turned over the operation to David and I believe Bill went on to become a State Game Warden.

I'm pleased that "some" of my story is accurate. Recall at my age is, at times, somewhat hazy. I do remember your little Amalie telling the visitors not to touch the Wooley Monkey because "Him Bites". Surely you remember that, as we all thought how cute she was warning folks to stay away. Or, how about Oona (she was wrongly called a Pigmy chimp) snatching watches off wrists - I still have a disfigured thumbnail from her biting me when I took a boat Captain's watch away from her. And when Jackie Willy, the Seminole Indian didn't show up for the Jungle Cruise boats, I was the one who entertained the tourists.

I could continue with stories from The Anthropoid Ape Research Foundation - Chimpanzee Farm, but I'll save them for another time. 


Aug 06, 2013
Chimp Farm Family 
by: Aging Primates

Peter, interested in your accounts of Chimp Farm days. We were there from 1944 to 1958, we recognize David Dennis wrestling photo we have been trying to place you. 

Some of your story is accurate. 

The Ash Family,
Owners from from 1950 forward


Jul 31, 2013
Snakes - Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake 
by: Peter Karsner 

Snake stories abound in Florida, especially when it comes to poisonous snakes.

The Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake seems to be the one who wins the title for erroneous size which may be due to both the skin pattern and girth of the reptile.

Years ago, when I worked at Ross Allen's Reptile Institute in Silver Springs, extracting venom from poisonous snakes for use in making anti-venom, I would go on out-calls to neighboring areas where "10'-12' Rattlers were chasing children down the street", only to find that the monster snake was in actuality 3'-4' long.

The excitement of actually seeing a poisonous snake sure seemed to help that snake grow in size. To date, the largest Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake on record is 96", that's 8', and eight feet is a far cry from some of the claims we hear on a regular basis regarding monster snakes. 


Jul 23, 2013
by: Kevin Long 

Snakes can and do get plenty big in florida. I see 6'-8' Black Racers all the time (Never cease to scare the crap out of me - they're fast and quiet) and I've seen 10'-15' Rattlers on occasion (Mercifully not in a long while). I've never seen a Python in person, thankfully, but I'm not sure I believe the 30' snake vs. the Chimps story.

To the best of my knowledge - and there was even a NOVA episode about this - there has never been a verified story about a snake longer than 20' anywhere in the world in as long as people have actually been paying attention to such things and keeping notes.


Sep 01, 2012
Chimps in Glades? 30'+ Pythons? 
by: Peter Karsner 

I am glad that the author states there are photos to prove the story for a couple reasons;

1. In my fours experience with Chimpanzees, the only time I saw real fear with a chimp was if they were exposed to a snake.

2. A 30'+ Python? Sounds like most of the snake stories I have heard all my life.

I'm sorry if I sound as though I don't believe the author of the Chimp/Snake story. Growing up with both critters, I'd just like to see the photos, then I will be happy to say I am wrong.


Sep 01, 2012
Chimps in the Everglades 100% real 
by: Mini Mo-ped 

While researching last month in the "Glades" (spent 28 days in it)and we came across a troop of Chimps that had at least 15-20 in it.

This was very deep in the Glades and not close to the coast..They seemed to be typical Chimps with all the behavior. There was a Dominant couple,apparently their offspring, and several other Chimps of all ages.

You could tell there had just been a power struggle as an older male looked like the new dominant Chimp had done a number on him and he would stay far away from him.

We spoke to a game warden who said they are familiar with the Chimps but did not want to go public for fear of people hunting them or trying to film them.

A group of Chimps are deadly, they will kill you without hesitation. We saw that first hand as 5 males stalked a Python of gigantic size...I would honestly say 30 + feet easy..as we measured between the 2 tree's the Chimps were standing under, 3 at the tail 2 at the head and it was 32 feet, and the snake stretched longer than that.

Wildlife conservationists are just fine with folks believing its a skunk ape or bigfoot...Yes there are Chimps, yes we did study them and have the photos.


Mar 23, 2012
No escaped chimps... Monkeys, yes! 
by: Peter Karsner 

For years, a tribe of monkeys have enjoyed the area along the canal north of Dania, and east of hwy #1. They escaped back in the 40's (from the Chimp Farm), so your husband did indeed see monkeys - not chimps - playing around his work place.


Mar 23, 2012
Escaped chimps 
by: Jeanne Androsiglio 

When my husband an I moved down to Ft. Lauderdale in 1973, there were rumours of wild monkeys living in our area: State Road 84 and I-95. Louis, my husband, worked as the maintenance man at the Ramada Inn Airport. He was working on the roof one day and swore he saw monkeys running over the roof and into the surrounding trees! 

I wonder if these were ancestors of escapees from the Dania Chimpanzee Farm??


Mar 23, 2012
by: Peter Karsner 

Greg, prior to the building you visited at Dania Beach, a sea exhibit was built on the canal by a wonderful man named Ed Noyes. I had the pleasure of working with he and his twin sons, Charles and Ed, developing the exhibit. The three of us dove on the reefs of the Dania and Hollywood beaches to catch all the creatures for the tanks. We also had an alligator wrestling arena where I would wrestle when the Seminoles didn't show up to perform. I left there to go to work with Ross Allen in Silver Springs, so I can't say that the building you saw was created by Ed, but chances are it was.

Mar 22, 2012
A Real-Life Tarzan! 
by: Greg May 


Your story is the stuff that makes this website! Your adventures would make a fascinating book. Maybe you could help me locate any information about an oceanarium that was built on Dania Beach in the early 60's - or maybe even the 50's. From the road, it looked like a storefront. My friend, Vic Aderholt, and I explored it one night. It was built entirely of concrete to withstand hurricanes. It consisted of a circular tank seventy feet in diameter and a grandstand overlooking an oval pool. The Intercoastal waterway came right up to its back door. When it closed in the early 60's, they released their sea lions into the Intercoastal Waterway which may be the cause of 'sea serpent' sightings along Florida's east coast.

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