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Mystery Monkey of Tampa Bay may be headed to Pasco County zoo

SEMINOLE — A month after his capture, things are looking up for Cornelius, formerly known as the Mystery Monkey of Tampa Bay. He's calm, even mellow. He's healthy, eating well and shows no signs of aggression.

And he may be one step closer this week to finding a permanent home, possibly with a mate.

It all depends on whether the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will hand over custody of the rhesus macaque to wildlife trapper Vernon Yates.

"The monkey will most likely be signed over to Vernon," said conservation commission spokesman Baryl Martin.

Yates will take full custody of the monkey, Martin said, because he helped with rescue efforts and has kept Cornelius in his Seminole wildlife facility.

Cornelius was captured Oct. 24 with tranquilizer darts in a St. Petersburg neighborhood near Lake Maggiore, about three weeks after he bit a woman outside her home. He was examined by veterinarian Don Woodman and quarantined in a cage at Yates' facility.

The monkey has remained inside a 6- by 10-foot cage, where he eats fruit and "monkey biscuits," similar to dog treats, Yates said.

Woodman has visited the monkey several times since his capture and said he was "absolutely thrilled" with Cornelius' behavior.

"When I've seen him, he's been really mellow," Woodman said last week. "Surprisingly mellow."

The monkey hasn't shown signs of aggressive behavior. Yates occasionally hands Cornelius food through his cage.

Once the wildlife commission hands over custody, Yates said he plans to give Cornelius to Dade City's Wild Things, a zoo already home to about a dozen other macaques.

Kathy Stearns, the zoo's director, also has visited Cornelius.

"He's doing really well for a wild monkey to be in captivity," Stearns said. "He's definitely not threatened by people at all."

Yates has already visited the Pasco facility several times to work on a new cage.

But it's only a temporary one, Stearns said, until the facility can build an even larger one that will be hurricane-proof and includes a compartment where Cornelius can sleep at night.

The temporary cage is almost done. Tree limbs will be placed inside. "We're spending every energy we can to get the cage up," Stearns said.

Cornelius won't be alone in the permanent cage. The monkey will likely have a female companion.

Once Cornelius arrives, an older female macaque named Coco already living at the facility may be placed in the cage with him. Another female macaque is also a candidate, Stearns said, but she declined to say from which facility.

Blood tests revealed Cornelius was Herpes B positive, a disease common in macaques and potentially fatal in humans. Neither female has the virus.

But because Herpes B is so common and doesn't show symptoms in macaques, "it's not really a concern," said University of Notre Dame primate expert Dr. Agustin Fuentes.

Mystery Monkey of Tampa Bay may be headed to Pasco County zoo 11/26/12 [Last modified: Monday, November 26, 2012 10:28pm]
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