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15 monkeys paddle to freedom in Polk County

Lex Salisbury figured the island, surrounded by a wide moat, would be a safe, comfortable home for the 15 monkeys rescued from Puerto Rico.

It looks like he underestimated them.

"They ended up outfoxing me and swimming off the island," said Salisbury, the chief executive of Lowry Park Zoo. "I think they're more street-smart than a zoo monkey."

The animals, called Patas monkeys, arrived Thursday at Salisbury's Safari Wild property in Polk County. By Saturday, they had vanished.

Since then, Salisbury has tried to round them up and bring them home.

On Tuesday evening, he was still searching.

He was able to use Global Positioning System technology to locate them. But by then news media had heard about the missing monkeys and helicopters flew overhead. All that fuss may have concerned the monkeys, who split into two groups. One was alone. Salisbury put out food to lure them to safety.

"What we have to do is be patient now," said Salisbury, who said he owns the monkeys privately. "They've got to be relaxed enough to eat this food."

As for Polk residents, the Polk Sheriff's Office sent out a reverse 911 alert to beware of monkeys. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is helping, too.

When Fish and Wildlife spokesman Gary Morse answered his phone Tuesday, he immediately knew the topic.

"The monkey business," he said.

The monkeys are typically quick-moving but docile animals that are harmless to humans. The monkeys' natural habitat is arid terrain in Africa.

"They are absolutely no threat to people," Morse said.

What should you do if you spot the missing Patas monkeys?

Don't approach them.

Call the wildlife commission's toll-free hotline: 1-888-404-3922.

Abbie VanSickle can be reached at vansickle@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3373.

15 monkeys paddle to freedom in Polk County 04/22/08 [Last modified: Sunday, April 27, 2008 2:05pm]
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