Tuesday, April 24, 2018
Public safety

Many residents say Mystery Monkey needs to go

ST. PETERSBURG — For about two years, the Mystery Monkey of Tampa Bay has dropped by unannounced at several homes near Lake Maggiore.

He ate handouts, napped on patios, looked through windows. The neighbors and the monkey learned to get along.

But that sentiment changed Monday when the monkey bit a 60-year-old woman.

Now, most residents say, he needs to go.

"I hate to say this, but it was bound to happen," Jeffrey Seilbach said.

Wildlife officials think the biting incident occurred because some neighbors fed the monkey.

"When people choose to feed wildlife in their neighborhood, very often it's the neighbors that end up suffering the consequences," said Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission spokesman Gary Morse.

The monkey resides in an area of tall trees and overgrown bushes near Country Club Way S. When the branches rattle loudly, neighbors know he's there.

He also likes back yards.

At Seilbach's home, the monkey has climbed a tree and broken a screen around the pool. Seilbach won't take his cat outside.

"I don't know if it was the monkey that did it," he said, "but one cat is gone."

Jim Swartz, 74, said he noticed several weeks ago that the bird feeder outside his screened patio was broken. Swartz repaired it. A few days later, as he and his wife ate lunch on the patio, the monkey returned. He sat on the ground and ate birdseed littering the ground. Then he looked up at the feeder. Swartz waved his arms and shooed the monkey away.

"The problem is they are not indigenous to this area," Swartz said. "He's not in a community, and I think these animals are just like humans. They need a community."

The monkey also takes trips to the nearby St. Petersburg Country Club, where he sometimes observes golfers.

Jim Hulett, 45, has seen him twice. On Tuesday, while golfing with a friend, Hulett saw the monkey perched on a fence, staring into space.

"It looked like it was contemplating life," Hulett said. "He definitely looked lonely. How terrible it must be to have nobody around."

The trap rescuers set near the victim's house remained empty Thursday except for a bag of fruit and sandwiches.

It's unlikely the monkey will be captured, said University of Notre Dame primate expert Agustin Fuentes, in part because he has had experience escaping before.

The monkey returned to the victim's house Thursday morning. He stared at the cage and the food.

Minutes later, he was gone.

Wildlife officials may explore other options to catch the monkey, including bringing in a female macaque.

If the monkey is eventually trapped and taken to a sanctuary, he may have trouble socializing with his kind because he has lived alone for years, Fuentes said.

If he isn't caught, the monkey could live peacefully among humans — if no one feeds him.

"That is 100 percent the key," Fuentes said.

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