(TAMPA, Fla.) — The elusive “Mystery Monkey of Tampa Bay” is still on the loose after it bit a St. Petersburg, Fla., woman Monday.
The monkey, a wild rhesus macaque, has become a popular figure among locals in the Tampa Bay area. For several years, the monkey had been spotted hopping around and making itself at home in several Pasco and Pinellas County neighborhoods. The monkey even has a Facebook page, and has been mentioned on Comedy Central’s Colbert Report. Its avid fans can purchase T-shirts bearing its face on MysteryMonkeyofTampaBay.com’s website, which fills in details of the monkey’s life.
“The creature, native to southern Asia, has been shot several times by tranquilizer darts and has proved equally elusive in urban areas as in dense woodland. Seemingly unfazed by humans, it has been spotted several times relaxing beside people’s swimming pools,” says the website.
“Officials are not sure where the monkey came from, but a popular theory is that it became separated from a troop of wild monkeys in a state park around 118 miles north of its current stalking ground,” the site states. “The troop descended from animals originally imported to star in early Tarzan films.”
Until Monday, the monkey remained a harmless, fun-to-follow animal for Floridians. But that all changed when it bit a St. Petersburg woman several times as she sat outside her home.
“This monkey bit a woman. It was unprovoked. … This is typical of what happens when wildlife associates people with feeding,” Gary Morse, spokesman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, told ABC News. “No matter how the feeding is done, direct or indirect, on purpose or inadvertent, the behavior and the results tend to be the same.”
The woman, who wished to remain anonymous, said in her report to wildlife officials that she was not feeding the monkey at the time, but apparently, her neighbors had fed it in the past.
“This is typical, although the animal might be perfectly fine around those that are feeding it, people really aren’t safe. Anyone in that domain of the animal is subject to have to deal with it in a very unpleasant way,” Morse said.
The woman said in her report that she was sitting outside with her back turned to the animal, unaware it was even nearby.
“Apparently, she’s sitting in the chair. The monkey came up and jumped on her, and she freaked, the monkey freaked. I don’t think it was an attack so to speak, but they just scared the hell out of each other,” David Yates, a local wildlife trapper with Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Inc., said.
As of Wednesday morning, it was not known whether the woman had sustained any life-threatening diseases from the animal, but Morse warned of that possibility.
“These animals have a variety of very serious and deadly diseases. There’s herpes, hepatitis, and there is no cure for these things. … The concern over rabies isn’t that great, because there are effective treatments for it,” Morse explained.
Although wildlife officials had never reported any previous problems with the Mystery Monkey, Morse said its aggression was inevitable.
“Any time that you’re dealing with wildlife, never feed it. Never allow it to find food. Don’t leave your pet food outside. Don’t leave your trash accessible to animals. It invariably ends up causing problems,” said Morse. “We warned the public this would likely happen over time. … It’s the same essential message.”
Yates and his team have set traps around the undisclosed neighborhood in an attempt to capture the monkey. However, if the traps fail or prove ineffective, they have to resort to dart guns.
“The monkey’s got to be stopped. Now that he’s bit, it’s over,” Yates said.
Morse and Yates emphasized that the public needs to stay away from the monkey and not disturb the traps they have placed on private property.
“We don’t want any disturbances in the neighborhood at all. There’s a trap in the area, but we don’t want media or even officers around it. Animals are very in tune with their surroundings. … We’re asking everyone to stay away from the area and allow the trap to work,” Morse said.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio