First it was the Mystery Monkey of Tampa Bay. Now it's the Mystery Marsupial.
A 5-foot-tall, 200-pound male kangaroo on the loose north of Dade City since Saturday night was tranquilized, Tased and tackled before being captured Sunday.
Its origin remains a mystery.
Pasco County sheriff's Deputy Gene Smith didn't believe it when he got the call at 6:45 a.m.
"A kangaroo?" he thought. "Somebody's screwing with us."
But sure enough, when he drove to the scene, there it was. Standing in the middle of a road in Lacoochee — trees and farm houses on one side, a field to the other — was a kangaroo.
As surprising as it sounds, this is the perfect climate for a kangaroo, said Kathy Stearns, director at Dade City's Wild Things.
The zoo, about 6 miles away from where the kangaroo was caught, has 75 species of animals, including kangaroos, zebras, otters, bears and big cats. And also Cornelius, the famous Mystery Monkey that roamed the bay area for nearly four years before being caught last year in a St. Petersburg neighborhood.
This marsupial is likely kindred spirits with the monkey — both on the run, separated from their own kind, with no owner coming forward.
The Sheriff's Office received a couple of calls Saturday when people spotted a kangaroo on the loose, Smith said. But the marsupial eluded deputies that night.
In the daylight Sunday, its brownish-red fur caught the sun as it looked about. Almost immediately, it jumped away from Smith and another deputy who arrived to catch it.
The two started trying to move the kangaroo toward a nearby fenced-in cell tower.
"We pretty much knew this is where we had to get him corralled, and he went right along with the plan," Smith said. "He wanted to get away from us just as badly as we wanted to get him in there."
Once inside, the kangaroo had about 4 or 5 acres to roam while the deputies waited on backup and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Over the next couple of hours, the kangaroo alternated between resting and checking the perimeter of its enclosure, either looking for a way out or making sure no one was coming in.
Kangaroos are mostly shy animals, Stearns said.
"Typically, they only get really aggressive when they want something or feel threatened by a human," she said. "If they're taught to play with humans, then a full-grown one could hurt us. When you teach an animal to play, he doesn't understand when he grows up and is stronger."
The kangaroos at Dade City Wild Things eat from the caretakers' hands — mostly fruits and vegetables. The thing to watch out for is their hind legs.
"They're powerful kickers and that's what you have to worry about it," Stearns said.
When the wildlife commission showed up Sunday, the plan was to start with tranquilizers.
"They tried the tranquilizer gun four or five times, and this thing, man, it was definitely a powerful animal," Smith said. "It had no intention of going to sleep. We were so desperate to not have to shoot it we even tried our Tasers on it, but that didn't work either."
With tranquilizer darts hanging from its body, the kangaroo had finally had enough. It made a run for freedom, jumping the fence and aiming for a hole in the perimeter of squad cars.
That's when a bystander, one of many who had gathered to watch authorities try to capture the animal, made a move. He ran toward the kangaroo and tackled it. They fell against the fence and down to the ground.
Smith, knowing how strong the kangaroo was, jumped in. He took a couple kicks from the animal's strong legs before they managed to pin it down.
"They'll kick the snot out of you, that's for sure," Smith said. "But he was nice and he was getting pretty sedated by the time we had our hands on him. At that point was like, 'Okay, you got me. Take me away.' "
Spotted near Mickler Road, the kangaroo now is being held in a pen near Cumber Road and U.S. 301 in Lacoochee.
People can own a kangaroo as long as they have a permit, the Sheriff's Office said.
But they must file a report with FWC when one escapes, spokesman Gary Morse said.
A commercial kangaroo farm operates not far from where the marsupial was captured. Its owner, John Chatfield, is the only one in the area who has kangaroos on file with wildlife authorities, Morse said.
But Chatfield told deputies this one is not his. He did not return a message Sunday afternoon from the Tampa Bay Times.
It's unclear what will happen to the animal if it isn't claimed.
"Obviously, we'd try to find a place for it," Morse said. "We'll have to find the person who has it. Whoever owns it has a record for it and has to have a permit. It's likely to show up in somebody's inventory some place."
Regardless of where it came from, locals likely will be talking of this escape for some time.
"Every time I say I've seen it all, I'm proven otherwise," Smith said. "I've learned to stop saying that."