Wednesday, January 17, 2018
Public safety

Second fiddle to Mystery Monkey, Doc Holliday has a story too

SEMINOLE — Tampa Bay's attention was fastened this week on the famous Mystery Monkey, a rhesus macaque who eluded wildlife officials for four years before he was finally caught Wednesday in St. Petersburg.

Meanwhile, out of the spotlight, there was another monkey with a story to tell.

His name is Doc Holliday, and he has been caught on video capering in leopard-print diapers. He has ridden a Jet Ski and sped down Largo's main drag in a pickup. Humans have even tried, without success, to send him on an airplane to Chattanooga, Tenn.

Call him Tampa Bay's Other Monkey, a banana-chomping Salieri to Mystery Monkey's Mozart. Doc Holliday was even poised to play a supporting role in the Mystery Monkey saga, when trappers briefly plotted to use him as bait to lure his fellow macaque. He lives in the same wildlife compound in Seminole where Cornelius — as the Mystery Monkey was named by his captors — is now being kept.

Doc Holliday is about the size of a terrier, less than half as large as he will likely be when full-grown. He has golden fur, a narrow face and amber eyes.

"He's just a ball of fun right now," wildlife trapper Vernon Yates said Friday as he sat in the shade of an oak tree watching 2-year-old Doc turn backflips in a cage. "He's a baby."

John Henry "Doc" Holliday was a 19th century dentist-turned-gunfighter who died of tuberculosis at the age of 36. Doc Holliday the modern-day monkey might be a baby but, like his namesake, he has packed some fast living into his few years on this earth.

Doc was apprehended by wildlife officials in May when his owner, Eugene Kotelman, was arrested by Largo police on a felony DUI charge. Police pulled him over driving his Ford pickup at 70 mph down East Bay Drive in Largo. Doc was riding in the cab.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission had been on Kotelman's trail. He had posted videos to YouTube of Doc and two other monkeys, Koty and Sam, cavorting in colorful diapers and splashing in the bathtub. Authorities suspected, correctly, that Kotelman did not have the paperwork required to own the animals.

A 36-year-old traveling barbecue vendor, Kotelman has been arrested 33 times in Florida. This week, speaking to a reporter from the Pinellas County jail — where he is again incarcerated on charges of driving under the influence and habitually driving with a suspended license — he said his efforts to meet Florida's monkey-possession requirements have come to naught.

To help, Yates even hatched a plan to send Doc on a plane to Chattanooga, where Kotelman owns land and could legally take possession of him. Kotelman couldn't come up with the money to make it happen.

"He's my son, you know? I miss him," Kotelman said Thursday. His voice caught, and he began to weep.

"I hate that he's being kept in a cage," he said.

Doc doesn't live in abject confinement. Yates said he takes him on outings. But Yates worries about the psychological effects of Doc's tumultuous life circumstances; just like small children, he said, baby monkeys do best in stable environments, forging steady attachments.

If Kotelman can't arrange to properly take possession of Doc, legal custody will pass to Yates, who said he would seek a private home able to take in the young macaque.

As Yates spoke about him, Doc curled his arm and scratched his side, as though he were a human imitating a monkey. When a visitor approached his cage, he squeezed a tiny hand through the bars and grasped his finger.

Peter Jamison can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4157.

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