TAMPA — Who knew monkeys could be this elusive?
Three months after a group of 15 Patas monkeys escaped from a private wildlife sanctuary in Polk County, one-third of the fugitive primates remain at large, and state officials say it is anyone's guess as to when they will be captured.
But they say there is hope. Five more of the monkeys have been captured in the last month, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission confirmed Thursday. A mother and a baby were caught in May, and trappers last month nabbed three others a few miles away from where they escaped.
Trappers are still looking for the remaining five escapees in the Green Swamp area, about 2 to 3 miles north of the preserve, said Gary Morse, a department spokesman. "We didn't think it would take this long," he said.
The monkeys escaped from a 1-acre island at Safari Wild, co-owned by Lex Salisbury, the chief executive of Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo. He got them from Puerto Rico, where Patas monkeys had razed plantain and pineapple crops to the point that government ordered the nonnative species be removed.
Salisbury, who could not be reached for comment Thursday, thought a moat belting the island was wide enough to make it a secure home for his monkeys. He apparently was wrong.
"All the details will come out in our final investigation," Morse said. "Who knows when that's going to be."
Thomas Kaplan can be reached at (813) 226-3404 or [email protected]