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Happy or sad, Mystery Monkey has become a neighborhood enigma

ST. PETERSBURG —The monkey has not left this quiet little Pinellas Point neighborhood for months, and it's easy to see why:

Towering oaks draped with Spanish moss shade the modest homes that surround Lake Catalina. Neighbors who chose the area to be closer to Florida wildlife fill large bird feeders until they spill over.

Banana, papaya and orange trees are plentiful.

If this little rhesus macaque, commonly known as the Mystery Monkey, was cast out from the Silver Springs wild monkey colony as wildlife experts believe, he found a spot that sure looks a lot like home.

Yet the more we learn about the monkey, the less idyllic his life begins to look. And the more we realize that maybe we were wrong about a couple of things.

We thought the monkey would keep moving from city to city, constantly in search of a mate. He spent more than a year on the move, defying numerous efforts to capture him across at least four counties.

Yet he's been in the same area of St. Petersburg for at least six months, either tired of roaming or out of hope.

We also created the rally cry, "Go, monkey, go," hoping he'd never be captured by the mean trappers trying to catch him. Turns out, that might be the best thing for the little guy.

"See, this backs up what I've said all along," said wildlife trapper Vernon Yates, who has been tracking the monkey for over a year. "All the idiots screaming, 'Let the monkey be free,' are basically confining him to a life of torture."

Nothing drove this point home quite like a photo snapped Monday and first published on tampabay.com, the website of the St. Petersburg Times. It quickly made the rounds among local news sites, Facebook and Twitter, depressing monkey fans everywhere.

They saw a sad-looking monkey staring at his reflection in a mirrored cube he found by the lake.

It gets worse.

On Tuesday evening, the couple who took the photo looked out their back window and saw the monkey again, hanging around the mirror.

The monkey looked around the corner of the cube, they said, as if he was looking for another monkey. Then he slowly backed off from it, gently sliding his monkey hand along the mirrored image of himself before turning away.

"He just kind of let his hand linger on the cube," said Mary McBride, whose husband, Don, snapped the photo.

On Wednesday, neighbor Jeff Wilcox, who owns the mirrored cube, set out a stuffed gorilla and a bag of fruit. A woman named Kris Terrana claimed to have once owned the cube as part of her 1970s furniture set before throwing it out. She called the St. Petersburg Times after seeing the photo.

"Poor little guy," Terrana said. "I feel so sorry for him."

And dozens of readers who saw the photo on tampabay.com expressed their sadness for the monkey, wondering if someone could release a female macaque for him, or catch him and put him with a new monkey family.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission spokesman Gary Morse cautioned people against feeding the wild monkey or interacting with him.

"That's the wrong thing to do," he said. "You don't want that animal to associate people with a feeding opportunity or to completely lose his fear of people."

Yates said he's all but given up on the phone calls from people reporting the monkey. He gets calls every week from that area, he said, but they usually come after the monkey has already disappeared.

"If he sees you, he'll hide," he said. "The only way we'll catch him is if he's in a tree asleep or he screws up and goes into someone's house or garage."

If that ever happens, Yates is ready. He said he has a new kind of tranquilizer that should work better than the kind trappers shot the monkey with earlier this year.

In the meantime, Mystery Monkey will live among his neighbors around Lake Catalina, where it seems like everyone has seen him or knows of him, Mary McBride said. Some think he should stay and some think he should go, but no one wants to see him hurting.

"He's an enigma," she said. "But how many years can this go on?"

Emily Nipps can be reached at nipps@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8452.

Happy or sad, Mystery Monkey has become a neighborhood enigma 09/08/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, September 8, 2010 10:35pm]
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