ST. PETERSBURG — The rusty 4-foot-long metal trap sits near tall trees and lush bushes in a neighborhood near Lake Maggiore. It was installed after the Mystery Monkey of Tampa Bay bit a woman outside her home.
Three weeks later, the trap is still empty.
As wildlife officials puzzle over how to capture the monkey, residents have taken matters into their own hands.
On Friday, they placed a banana inside the cage. If the monkey steps on the metal plate at the bottom, the door will slam shut. Monkey captured.
The monkey, of course, had other plans. He carefully reached inside, snatched the banana, then slipped away.
They tried again Sunday.
This time, two bananas were bound to the back of the cage and a string was tied to the trap door.
Residents waited. Soon, the monkey climbed down a tree and entered the cage.
The string was pulled. But right before the door shut tight, the monkey forced it open and scampered into the woods.
He hasn't gone near the cage since.
"He's not going anywhere," said Dr. Agustin Fuentes, a primate expert at the University of Notre Dame. "For him, it's probably fun. It's probably a challenge. . . . They are making it fun for him."
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officials soon will employ a new strategy to capture the rhesus macaque that has eluded them for about three years.
They recruited wildlife rescuer Vernon Yates.
Yates will install a larger cage, 8 feet long and 3 feet wide. Inside will be Doc, a 1-year-old macaque, in a smaller cage, along with some food.
"I think the lure of the monkey will just be more than he can handle," Yates said. "Whether it's to say hi to him or kill him, one way or the other, he's going to get to that monkey."
It is unlikely that the monkeys will be able to harm one another as the cage is constructed with mesh small enough to prevent them from having physical contact, Yates said.
Wildlife officials did not disclose the location of the new trap or when it will be placed, but Yates said Doc will be in the cage only under his watch in the early morning hours, when the Mystery Monkey is most active.
Yates said the trap is likely to work, adding that it hasn't been implemented before because residents have hidden the monkey's location for years.
"It wasn't that he out-tricked us," he said. "If the people don't want to give him up, you can't do much about it."
The monkey's location was revealed this month when he bit a 60-year-old woman outside her home.
Trappers have tried tranquilizers in the past, but that failed.
Officials now are focusing on cages because the monkey appears to remain in the same area.
They will not stop leaving traps until he is captured, said wildlife commission spokesman Baryl Martin.
If Doc can't lure the monkey in, local officials will turn to other wildlife experts in Tallahassee for guidance, Martin said.
"We definitely cannot just let the animal be," he said. "It poses a danger to the general public. It needs to be captured."
On Tuesday morning, the monkey rattled branches above a house and climbed onto the roof.
He sat down and stared into space for a moment.
Then he dashed into the woods and was gone.
Times staff writer Dan Sullivan contributed to this report. Laura C. Morel can be reached at (727)893-8713, or [email protected]