ST. PETERSBURG — The Mystery Monkey of Tampa Bay is in some big trouble after he reportedly bit a woman in south St. Petersburg.
Wildlife officials confirmed late Tuesday that the monkey, which has gained notoriety in recent years after numerous sightings throughout the bay area, bit a woman Monday in what authorities described as an "unprovoked attack."
The woman was sitting outside when the monkey bit her on her back, said Gary Morse, spokesman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. After the bite, the woman stood up and the monkey bit her again.
Though the monkey has become something of an endearing figure in Tampa Bay — someone has set up a Mystery Monkey Facebook page and its plight has been featured on Comedy Central's Colbert Report and in a National Geographic special — wildlife officials have cautioned residents that a wild monkey on the loose is a safety hazard.
"The public was warned about the dangers of feeding this animal," Morse said. "It is a shame that it has come to this. Human kindness and food cannot overcome millions of years of genetic evolution."
The incident was reported Tuesday afternoon to wildlife officials, who dispatched a trapper to the area. Authorities did not disclose the location, saying that they did not want to draw activity to the area, which might drive the monkey away.
The monkey, a wild rhesus macaque, is believed to have been cast out of a colony in Silver Springs. He has reportedly been spotted around the Tampa Bay area, including Pasco County and Clearwater, and trappers have repeatedly tried to catch him.
In the past year, he has settled into the southern tip of Pinellas County, where he has lived quietly among friendly neighbors who provided food and a willingness to keep his whereabouts under wraps.
The monkey has never been aggressive, until now.
The daughter of the 60-year-old woman whom the monkey attacked said it has appeared in the woods outside the family's house nearly every morning for the past year and a half.
The woman, who did not want her family's name or address to be printed, said she was inside her home cooking a meal Monday when she heard her mother scream from the front porch.
The animal had jumped on her mother's back, scratching and gnawing on her skin as she rose from a chair.
"She could hear the clicking of teeth," her daughter said.
The woman reached behind, grabbed the monkey's leg and tossed him into the bushes before he ran off.
She suffered several puncture wounds and scratches, her daughter said. At the hospital, doctors gave her shots to prevent infections.
"It's been very traumatizing for her," the daughter said.
In February, the Tampa Bay Times profiled a family in south St. Petersburg that had seen the monkey essentially move in behind their secluded home. They named him Mr. Monk and struck up a friendly relationship. To protect their privacy, the Times did not name the family or reveal their location.
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Reached by email Tuesday night, the husband said the monkey still lives behind their home and has shown no signs of aggressiveness.
"Does not seem like Monk at all," he wrote of the reported attack. "He has been sleeping on the porch and just in general relaxing. No difference in his attitude at all."
Local wildlife trapper Vernon Yates expressed regret at news of the attack Tuesday, saying that a "mad race" would be on this morning to track the animal.
"It's basically done exactly what I said it was going to do," Yates said. "I just hope that we can find a way around it so the monkey doesn't have to die."
Morse concurred, saying the FWC will try to trap the monkey alive. But it's possible, given the attack, that trappers will have to kill it.
"It's an unfortunate situation," Morse said. "For the woman and for the monkey."