Cornelius, the ex-fugitive primate better known as the Mystery Monkey of Tampa Bay, may soon be putting his lonesome journey behind him.
Zoo officials at Dade City's Wild Things have located a female monkey that they hope will make a suitable companion for Cornelius, who captivated the public with his four-year run from wildlife officials in Pinellas County.
"We're very hopeful that this is going to be a great match," zoo director Kathy Stearns said.
Cornelius first made headlines in 2009. The male rhesus macaque was spotted throughout the Tampa Bay area, repeatedly evading the efforts of wildlife experts to capture him. Some believed he had been forced out of a colony of monkeys in Silver Springs, near Ocala.
He became somewhat of a celebrity, generating national TV chatter, a Facebook fan page and celebratory cries of "Go, monkey, go!"
His run came to an end on Oct. 24, 2012, when he was shot with a tranquilizer dart in a St. Petersburg neighborhood near Lake Maggiore, about three weeks after he had bitten a woman outside her home.
In December, the monkey was permanently placed at Dade City's Wild Things. Since then, zoo officials and wildlife trappers have engaged in a national search for a female companion, which they say is essential for the monkey's continued well-being. Primates, experts say, are social creatures. And Cornelius wants to be with other monkeys.
It wasn't easy. The female monkey had to be close in age — Cornelius is about 17 years old, experts think — and had to exhibit the same laid-back, sociable attitude that Cornelius has shown in captivity.
Complicating efforts is the fact that Cornelius is infected with herpes B, a virus common in macaques and potentially deadly to humans.
The female monkey, whose origins zoo officials declined to disclose, is a perfect match because of her age and social habits, they said.
For now, she remains quarantined as veterinarians conduct blood tests and other examinations to make sure she is healthy enough to be introduced to Cornelius. In the meantime, they will decide whether to have Cornelius neutered to prevent him from passing herpes along to any potential offspring.
If all goes well, the monkeys will be introduced in about 30 days, Stearns said.