LAKELAND — They can swim, climb and run up to 35 miles an hour.
But patience is proving a powerful weapon in capturing a group of 15 Patas monkeys that escaped from a private wildlife sanctuary in Polk County on April 19.
Last month, a mother and baby were caught. Last week, trappers captured three more within a few miles of where they escaped. That means one third of the original group of 11 adults and four offspring that swam to freedom has been returned to captivity.
"They hadn't gone far," said Gary Morse, spokesman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Lex Salisbury, chief executive of Lowry Park Zoo, acquired the monkeys from Puerto Rico, where the non-native species has pilfered plantain and pineapple crops. The Puerto Rican government mandated that Patas monkeys be killed or removed.
Salisbury thought a 1-acre island with a wide moat would be a secure home for the 15 monkeys he acquired. He was wrong. A few days later, the monkeys had vanished. He reasoned that the wild animals, which are native to Africa, had better street smarts than zoo-raised monkeys.
The animals split into two groups, making them even harder to catch. Safari Wild, the private wildlife preserve the monkeys escaped from, updated its Web site with news of the fugitives. They were believed to have settled in an area of the Green Swamp about 2 to 3 miles north of the preserve.
Keepers set up "bait stations" with food for the monkeys to grow accustomed to eating in hopes of catching them unsuspecting.
"It's taken longer than we had hoped for," Morse said.
Stephanie Garry can be reached at (727) 892-2374 or email@example.com.