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Mystery Monkey awakens to new home, environment

SEMINOLE — Cornelius, formerly known as the Mystery Monkey of Tampa Bay, woke up inside a cage Thursday for the first time in nearly four years.

He nibbled on bananas, watched other monkeys through the chain-link of his 6-by-10 foot enclosure and backed into a corner when wildlife rescuer Vernon Yates approached his cage.

It was Day 1 of captivity and a new life for Cornelius after he was caught Wednesday with two tranquilizer darts.

"He's showing no signs of stress at all," Yates said. "He will get better as time goes along."

Moments after being captured in a neighborhood near Lake Maggiore, Cornelius was whisked away by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officials to the Animal Hospital of Northwood in Safety Harbor.

Once there, he underwent a physical exam by veterinarian Dr. Don Woodman, owner of the hospital.

Woodman checked his hands, feet, nails, skin, teeth. He cleaned the blood off the two puncture wounds caused by the darts. He discovered tartar on the monkey's teeth.

"We haven't made any firm plans," Woodman said, "but down the road, he might be in for some dental care."

Officials also discovered that Cornelius, weighing in at a plump 45 pounds, is about 10 pounds overweight.

Blood samples were taken. They will be checked for viral diseases monkeys are prone to contract, including herpes, measles and simian immunodeficiency virus, Woodman said.

Results from the lab are expected next week.

Cornelius is under quarantine for 30 days at Yates' wildlife facility in Seminole, where he will also be tested for tuberculosis. Woodman, Yates and wildlife officials will observe Cornelius and determine what kind of sanctuary may be best for him.

"We want to first of all make sure this monkey is healthy," Woodman said. "Everybody's goal is to find a good place that he will fit in well with. … What we hope and what we expect is that we will be able to place him in a place where he will have more direct contact with monkeys."

Baryl Martin, wildlife commission spokesman, said some facilities in Florida already have expressed interest in adopting Cornelius.

But Yates said the monkey's new home should be chosen carefully. "Are they taking him because of his fame or are they taking him to give him a home?" he said.

As Cornelius remains under quarantine, some residents of the neighborhood where he resided for two years said it will be strange not having a monkey around.

He was known to peer through windows, grab mangoes and avocados from trees and scamper across roofs. He would rattle branches and hide among overgrown bushes.

On Thursday, the branches were still. Only squirrels could be seen scuttling up the trees.

"I just hope he is okay, and he finds a home," said resident Jim Swartz, who once saw the monkey near his patio. Jeffrey Seilbach, another neighbor, said he last saw Cornelius on Tuesday.

Seilbach was in his living room when his cat, Hootie, began to pace along a windowsill. The monkey emerged and chased the cat from the outside for several minutes. When Hootie walked away, the monkey disappeared. "I will kind of miss it," Seilbach said.

Laura C. Morel can be reached at (727)893-8713.

Mystery Monkey awakens to new home, environment 10/25/12 [Last modified: Friday, October 26, 2012 1:29am]
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