LARGO — When Largo police detained a man and his monkey in a traffic stop Thursday morning, they had no idea they had apprehended a pair whose notoriety had spurred a protracted investigation by state wildlife officials.
Yet Largo resident Eugene Kotelman and his simian companion, a macaque named Doc Holliday, have been at the center of a case whose trail leads through the woods of Pasco and into cyberspace, according to Gary Morse, spokesman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Authorities said Kotelman, 36, is the same man who flagged down a Pasco County sheriff's deputy last month with a mysterious complaint that his pet monkey had escaped his vehicle and had vanished into the forest outside a Hess gas station at U.S. 41 and State Road 52. Reports of that incident caught the attention of Fish and Wildlife officials.
Surveillance videos from the Hess showed a man matching the description of "Monkeysdaddyg," a prolific YouTube auteur who has posted multiple images of young monkeys cavorting in the bathtub and, in one case, hopping around a living room in matching leopard-print diapers. State authorities had been seeking the creator of the videos for potential violation of wildlife possession laws.
"We've had dealings with him before," Morse said. "We've been looking for him."
For Kotelman and Doc Holliday, life on the lam came to an abrupt end shortly after midnight Thursday, when Kotelman was arrested by Largo police. They said he was driving his Ford truck at 70 mph down East Bay Drive in Largo. Doc Holliday was riding shotgun.
Kotelman, a traveling barbecue vendor, was booked into the Pinellas County Jail Thursday on a felony DUI charge. Largo police Lt. Mike Loux said Kotelman has a "lengthy criminal history" involving multiple arrests on DUI and driving with a suspended license charges.
State officials also filed charges against Kotelman this week — for failure to meet minimum caging requirements and failure to document a source of acquisition for wildlife, Morse said. Both are misdemeanors carrying a maximum penalty of 60 days' jail time or a $1,000 fine.
Morse said that he didn't know how Kotelman first got on the wildlife agency's radar but that officials had been pursuing him for some time.
"Essentially, he doesn't have a permit for the monkey," Morse said.
Morse doesn't know where Kotelman acquired Doc Holliday — presumably named after another legendary figure who got crosswise of the law, the 19th century gambler and gunfighter John Henry "Doc" Holliday — or whether the monkey is carrying any potentially dangerous diseases.
There are 22 species of macaque monkeys inhabiting various parts of the globe. They are known for their complex social behavior and sometimes surprising wiles. The nation's animal-loving public was enthralled in recent years by the saga of the Mystery Monkey of Tampa Bay, a rhesus macaque that eluded trappers for years before deciding to live outside a Pinellas County family's home earlier this year.
Morse said it's unclear what the future holds for Doc Holliday. The monkey is being held in quarantine at an undisclosed location, he said.
The fate of monkeys confiscated from their owners typically depends on how well the animals can adapt to social settings with other members of their own species, according to University of Notre Dame primate expert Agustin Fuentes.
"The ideal would be to get them to a good sanctuary where they can have a good life and be with other monkeys," Fuentes said. But if the monkey has been "poorly socialized" by its human owner so it can't interact well with other animals, Fuentes said it could be euthanized.
Also unclear is whether other monkey associates of Kotelman and Doc Holliday are still on the loose.
The YouTube videos wildlife officials say were created by Kotelman feature two monkeys. Several short films depict them bathing in the tub together, occasionally leaping up to swing from the showerhead or perch on the bathroom windowsill.
Another video shows the monkeys, attired in leopard-patterned diapers, jumping between pieces of furniture in front of a TV.
In a call to the Tampa Bay Times after the Pasco County incident, Kotelman claimed to have two other monkeys — Koty and Uncle Sam.
Kotelman "may have more than one" monkey, Morse said. For the moment, however, the other members of this gang remain at large.
Peter Jamison can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4157.