CLEARWATER — The search is over, at least for the moment, for the rhesus macaque running through Clearwater.
Officials are waiting for a tip from the public before they resume the search for the monkey, last seen Tuesday night at a strip mall at the intersection of Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard and U.S. 19.
"If I knew he was staying in that complex, we would probably go in with 12 traps and bait him," said Vernon Yates, a trapper working with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. "I've got a sneaking feeling he's already left and gone somewhere else."
By Wednesday evening, a few people had called the FWC wildlife hotline to report sightings, but Yates said the tips did not turn up the monkey.
When the call first came in Tuesday about 1 or 1:30 p.m., Yates, who runs an exotic animal shelter in Seminole, was told it was a baboon on the loose.
When he arrived at the strip mall on the northeast quadrant of Gulf-to-Bay and U.S. 19, he saw a picture taken by a bystander. The animal in the photo looked like a macaque of some stripe.
Yates spent the rest of the afternoon Tuesday in the shopping center and office complex, trying to get clear sights on the monkey to shoot it with a dart gun. But the creature was elusive and out of reach in the 60-foot-tall oak trees.
Authorities believe that it is an unlicensed, escaped monkey and that it can be dangerous if cornered.
Yates said he guessed that Dumpster diving attracted the monkey to the office and commercial complex. The strip mall hosts two Mexican restaurants, a seafood restaurant and a Chinese fast-food chain.
He said the monkey seemed "very streetwise" and apparently knows how to avoid people.
"If you see the monkey, you should stay away from it," said Gary Morse, spokesman for the FWC. "When a monkey is on the loose, it's not the most pleasant thing."
The monkey could carry hepatitis, Morse said. And that's not the only reason to stay away.
"Monkeys' social behavior can be pretty lewd,'' Morse said. "They're infamous for throwing feces at things they don't like.''
Staff writers Stephanie Garry and Kameel Stanley contributed to this report. Jonathan Abel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4157.