ST. PETERSBURG — The Tampa Bay area's elusive mystery monkey appears to have finally found a friend:
Former St. Petersburg Times employee Don McBride saw the young male rhesus macaque, which has been on the loose for more than a year, and photographed the monkey gazing into a mirror in the Pinellas Point area. The monkey was in his neighbor's backyard near 56th Avenue S and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street, McBride said.
"He had been here once before," McBride said. "I saw him in my rear window staring back at me, eating out of the bird feeder."
McBride saw the monkey again on Labor Day. The macaque — who has been seen in various parts of Pasco, Hillsborough and Pinellas counties — appeared to be staring into a cube with mirrors on all sides.
"My neighbors who used to own the house were artists, and they sold their house to artists," McBride said. "They've had that thing in their yard, and we never really knew what it was supposed to be."
The monkey appeared to drawn to it — or rather, to his own reflection in it — Monday morning.
No one really knows where the monkey came from, though theorists think he could have been cast out by a wild troop of macaques in Ocala, or perhaps he was someone's pet. Wildlife experts believe the monkey craves companionship and has been seeking a fellow monkey friend.
His random appearances throughout south Pinellas County neighborhoods have propelled his stardom, capturing the attention of the national media, Comedy Central's Colbert Report and tens of thousands of Facebook fans.
Though once a symbol of free, frolicking monkey fun, the latest captured image suggests that, sadly, the monkey is desperately lonely.
Dr. Agustín Fuentes, a University of Notre Dame anthropology professor who studies monkeys that live in cities, was fascinated when he saw the photo Tuesday.
"There's huge debate about whether or not monkeys know what they're seeing when they look in the mirror," Fuentes said. "Do they know it's themselves? Probably not. Do they know they're looking at some sort of reflection of something? Unclear."
Regardless, he said, "if something looks monkey-ish, he'd be attracted to it."
Fuentes did at least have some good news for monkey fans.
He noted the extra fur on the monkey's upper arms. A consistent color pattern on his back. No splotches on his face.
In other words, Fuentes said, the monkey looks extremely healthy, if not a little forlorn.
Emily Nipps can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8452.