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How did a monkey end up stalking Tampa Bay?

This monkey is on the move.

Residents across Tampa Bay have spotted it five times in two weeks: climbing a tall tree in East Tampa; sitting on a back porch north of Town N' Country; crossing a road in Palm Harbor.

If it is the same monkey — and wildlife experts believe it is — it has traveled at least 21 miles in 11 days.

It is believed to be a macaque, among the more temperamental in the primate family, also among the most plentiful.

No one knows where it came from. Eleven people across Florida have licenses to own macaques as personal pets. Another 41 breed or exhibit macaques. But no one in Tampa Bay has reported a missing macaque.

The macaque (pronounced muh-kak) was spotted again Monday in Palm Harbor, less than half a mile from where it was observed at an apartment complex on Sunday. One person reported seeing it hop over a wall. Another said it crossed the street and disappeared into the woods.

Efforts have been made to trap it in a cage, dart it.

So far, the monkey has the upper hand.

• • •

Last January, someone snapped a photo of a macaque in a strip mall at the intersection of Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard and U.S. 19 in Clearwater. Wildlife officials tried to catch it in a cage, but the monkey escaped.

Two weeks ago, the macaque, possibly the same one, turned up in East Tampa. Since that time, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has spent countless hours trying to catch it. They have tried and failed several times to tranquilize it with a dart.

"It's an iffy proposition when you get into heavily urbanized areas with a lot of traffic," said Gary Morse, a spokesman for the Commission. "When you dart, you have to be careful to recover the dart and the monkey has a tendency to throw the dart back at you. This is a very difficult situation.''

There are several types of macaques, but wildlife officials are not ready to identify which type has been seen in the past two weeks. Macaques, which range from Japan to Africa, adapt easily and Florida's environment offers a nice smorgasbord — leaves and shoots, fruits and berries, lizards, plenty of Dumpsters.

"It will become more and more comfortable each day that it has to survive on its own if it is not caught soon," said Jay Stutz, assistant curator of Myombe Reserve at Busch Gardens.

There are several colonies of monkeys in Florida's wild. Dania Beach has vervets, or green monkeys, which were released by the owner of a primate attraction that closed in the 1950s. Dozens of rhesus monkeys, imported for Tarzan movies in the 1930s, still roam near the Silver River, east of Ocala.

In 2007, there were close to 9,000 macaques in private hands in Florida, including at three facilities that breed and sell them for research. In Immokalee, one of the breeding facilities reported 6,000 macaques.

A macaque's range is 100 to 300 miles and it can run as fast as 30 miles per hour in the wild. But Florida's heavily populated landscape makes it tough to move far without getting hit by a car.

"That's probably someone's lost pet," said Mark Wilson, a veterinarian and director of the Florida International Teaching Zoo in Sumter County.

This may make them even more dangerous, he said, because they are less fearful of humans but will attack if frightened. The males have large teeth and can inflict serious damage on a person. They also carry diseases like herpes B and hepatitis, he said.

But they are one of the most common monkeys in private hands because they are so plentiful in the wild.

If you see the monkey, you can call the FWC wildlife hotline toll free at 1-888-404-3922.

Times researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report. Leonora LaPeter Anton can be reached at or 727-893-8640.

Monkey mystery

To be honest, we don't know what the escaped monkey looks like; there are dozens of types of macaques. He could have big ears like this guy up top, or choppers like Smiley here.

How did a monkey end up stalking Tampa Bay? 11/23/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 24, 2009 1:15pm]
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