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Well-traveled monkey slips away again

ST. PETERSBURG — It looked as if the story of the elusive monkey was going to end Wednesday.

Chased by its own personal pack of paparazzi — spectators, wildlife trappers, police officers and news media helicopters — the monkey made its way through a few of the city's neighborhoods.

It passed through an intersection, hid out near a church, and, finally, took cover in a small clump of trees near a fire station.

Trappers thought they had it cornered. They managed to shoot it with two tranquilizer darts.

But in the end, the infamous monkey that's been traipsing around the Tampa Bay area for the past several months gave everyone the slip.

Again.

• • •

The crossing guard was almost the monkey's undoing.

It was about 2 p.m., and the guard, who was working the intersection at 54th Avenue S and 22nd Street S, noticed something large and brown.

"The monkey was apparently in the middle of the street," said George Kajtsa, a St. Petersburg police spokesman. "She thought it was trying to chase her."

The monkey ran up a tree, then darted into nearby woods. A trapper and officials with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission were called.

Above them, high in a tree near the Lakewood United Church of Christ, sat a brown blob about the size of a dog. It didn't move. Officials squeezed off one shot of animal tranquilizer, hitting it. Still no movement.

At 5:35 p.m., a St. Petersburg Fire & Rescue ladder truck arrived and got into position. Fifteen minutes later, wildlife officer Tom Chase took another shot. Another hit.

The brown blob moved.

A woman's high-pitched squeal cut the air.

"A monkey! It's so cute!" said Cherise Skelly, 28, who came out to see all the commotion with her 8-year-old son.

The monkey swung through the trees and darted past a gaggle of cameramen, officers and trappers.

• • •

A few streets over, Pierre Muhammad and his three daughters were running an errand.

Muhammad had heard on the radio that there may be a monkey in the area. He wasn't sure he believed that until he saw it saunter out of the woods.

"I blew the horn and he kind of looked back at us," Muhammad, 40, said. "He didn't look scared."

The monkey moved on. So did its posse.

• • •

Working off Muhammad's tip, officials gathered around a small clump of trees near a fire station.

As authorities moved in about 6:30 p.m., the monkey hatched another escape. It cleared the trees and darted across a residential street. It was last seen hopping a fence near Bethel Community Baptist Church.

The group scrambled to follow, but after a brief pursuit, they lost sight of the animal.

The sun set. The search ended.

• • •

Officials believe the monkey is a rhesus macaque. No one is sure where it came from, but wildlife officials believe it could be from a wild troupe at Silver River State Park in Marion County; or perhaps it's an abandoned pet.

The agency has been trying to catch the monkey for more than a year. It has been spotted in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties.

Before Wednesday, the monkey was last seen Feb. 16 in a Seminole woman's back yard.

Wildlife officials believe the commotion of the large entourage on its heels amped up the monkey's adrenaline, lessening the tranquilizer darts' effect.

"They should have knocked him down," said veterinarian Don Woodman, who was called to the scene.

Officials said the monkey will generally avoid people. But it's still a wild monkey, and wildlife officials would like to capture it — for its own good and for the safety of the community.

"This is by far the craziest thing I've seen," said Chase, the officer who shot the animal. "I thought for sure we had him."

Anyone who sees the monkey is asked to call the commission's hotline, 1-888-404-3922.

Well-traveled monkey slips away again 03/03/10 [Last modified: Thursday, March 4, 2010 12:24pm]
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