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Mystery Monkey, long on his own, settles into fatherhood (w/video)

DADE CITY — Cornelius is like a lot of men. He resisted settling down.

Embracing the wandering life, he prowled Tampa Bay, finding adventure and evading authority. But it was a lonely existence. What's life without family?

A year or so ago, Cornelius found a mate. And late Friday or early Saturday, the Mystery Monkey of Tampa Bay became a daddy.

Cornelius, a rhesus macaque who formerly roamed Tampa Bay and eluded capture for years, became a father when his mate Cora gave birth at Dade City's Wild Things, a 22-acre zoo in Pasco County.

The birth took place between 8 p.m. Friday and 10 a.m. Saturday. The couple and baby are doing well, the zoo reported.

"Cornelius is a proud daddy, that's for sure," said Kathy Stearns, the zoo's director. "The renegade monkey has settled down. We all have to eventually."

It might be a few days before the zoo knows the gender of the baby and decides on a name. Cora is holding the baby closely and nursing it, so zoo workers are keeping their distance, Stearns said.

Cornelius is sticking close by, being protective and apparently basking in fatherhood, Stearns said.

If zoo employees approach too closely, she said, Cornelius bares his teeth and lets out a threatening grunt.

"He's being a good dad," Stearns said.

The Mystery Monkey dodged capture and captivated Tampa Bay during a four-year odyssey, winning national attention as he frustrated trappers. He won fans on social media. He had his own Facebook page. Fans chanted the rally cry, "Go monkey go!"

Some speculated he had been forced out of a colony of monkeys in Silver Springs, near Ocala.

In 2010, a St. Petersburg resident snapped a photo that showed Cornelius seeming to gaze into a mirror as if he longed for companionship.

The bachelor's life gets old.

Cornelius was finally caught on Oct. 24, 2012, in a St. Petersburg neighborhood near Lake Maggiore after being shot with tranquilizer darts by trappers. He had been hanging around a home, taking treats, playing with a family dog.

Cornelius has now been living at Dade City's Wild Things for more than two years.

The zoo tried to match him with a female rhesus macaque not long after he arrived. But the chemistry was missing. Cornelius looked bored at the match.

"They just didn't hit it off," Stearns said.

About a year ago, the zoo introduced Cornelius to Cora, who is about 12 years old. Cornelius is about 18. Would the age difference torpedo a union?

The connection was instant, undeniable. Kismet. The two became one. Such is love.

"They wanted to be together," Stearns said. "They sat side by side. You could tell immediately they liked each other."

And where love flowers, monkey business follows. Soon enough, Cora was pregnant.

Cornelius came to Dade City's Wild Things a suspicious macaque whose life on the run left him wary of humans. But he has since warmed up to humans, Stearns said.

"He feels secure," she said. "He's a totally different monkey now."

Contact William R. Levesque at levesque@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3432.

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