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Mystery Monkey taken to new home, a zoo in Dade City

Cornelius reacts to reporters standing outside his temporary cage Monday at his new home at Dade City’s Wild Things.
Cornelius reacts to reporters standing outside his temporary cage Monday at his new home at Dade City’s Wild Things.
Published Dec. 4, 2012

DADE CITY — His new home is on the side of a dirt road, just yards away from Hank the baby zebra and four pacing tigers.

Inside a 10- by 12-foot cage, curled above a wooden compartment used as his sleeping quarters, the evasive rhesus macaque was still trying to avoid the limelight.

For six weeks, Cornelius, once known as the Mystery Monkey of Tampa Bay, had been staying at a Seminole facility owned by wildlife rescuer Vernon Yates.

Given custody of the monkey by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Yates on Monday drove Cornelius to Dade City's Wild Things, a 22-acre zoo in Pasco County holding more than 250 animals.

After nearly four years of eluding trappers and wildlife officials across Tampa Bay, Cornelius finally has a home.

"Of all the animals I've chased in my 60 years of life," Yates said, "he's been extremely intelligent."

Upon arriving, Cornelius ate corn on the cob, green beans and peanuts, then wandered around his chain-link cage.

When reporters showed up with cameras, tripods and note pads, he turned his face from the crowd.

The journey still isn't over for Cornelius. He will be alone at least 30 days.

If eating well and showing no signs of aggression, he will be joined by Coco, an older female macaque.

"To me, this is like three-quarters of the way completed," said his veterinarian, Don Woodman.

Cornelius' new home is equipped with a blue ball dangling from a chain, a wooden perch and a red swing that slings across the cage.

Because he tested positive for herpes B during his quarantine period, a virus common in macaques but potentially fatal to humans, zoo officials must take extra precautions.

The floor of the cage was covered in cement for easy cleanup. Next to the cage is a wooden shed containing Haz-Mat gear, including rubber boots and a face mask, that workers must use when entering Cornelius' quarters. A glass panel was erected at the front of the cage so visitors can safely observe.

"He can still have a life," said zoo director Kathy Stearns. "A good life, just a little different life."

Cornelius is also part of a "riding tour" of the zoo, though walkers won't have access to that part of the facility.

Yates said he decided to hand Cornelius over to Dade City's Wild Things because officials there expressed interest in the macaque when he was first seen about four years ago.

Earlier this year when Cornelius was captured, several facilities wanted him.

"But in my opinion," Yates said, "they wanted him because of the fame. … I didn't want him to go to some facility where they would use him for publicity."

Stearns hopes one day to build a half-acre, permanent cage for Cornelius. With a larger cage, the macaque would be able to live with at least two female monkeys. The zoo is seeking funds to build the new cage.

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Cornelius was caught Oct. 24 in a St. Petersburg neighborhood near Lake Maggiore after being shot with tranquilizer darts. His capture came about three weeks after he bit a 60-year-old woman outside her home.

Woodman, the veterinarian, shot the darts. On Monday morning, he stared at Cornelius. The monkey occasionally bared his teeth, apparently unhappy about all the attention.

"Since my job as a vet is to save animals' lives," Woodman said, "for me, this was a quest to save his life."