Mystery Monkey moves into Dade City's Wild Things
DADE CITY (NBC) -- The Mystery Monkey of Tampa Bay, named Cornelius after a character in "Planet of the Apes," has not lost the fight he had during years on the lam as he bares his teeth to the media.
The Mystery Monkey of Tampa Bay decided enough was enough.
The monkey, who captivated the region for years as he eluded capture, drew plenty of media attention this morning as he moved into his new home at Dade City's Wild Things.
But after calmly sitting atop his house for nearly an hour as cameras whirred and interviews took place around him, the Mystery Monkey was no longer ready for his close-up.
He yawned widely, showing his teeth, an aggressive sign in the macaque world.
It was perhaps his way of saying the press briefing is over.
Now he can get on with the business of hanging out in his new digs, a wooden house inside a nine-gauge, chain-link cage that is fronted by a glass shield. The shield is an added precaution because the monkey was diagnosed with herpes B, a common malady among rhesus macaques.
"He's actually a pretty cool guy," said Randy Stearns, president and head animal trainer for Wild Things, a 22-acre zoo that's also home to tigers, lions, jaguars and numerous other animals.
"He's just got to learn we are friends. He's used to people chasing him or darting him."
Visitors who buy one of the zoo's riding-tour tickets will get the opportunity to see the Mystery Monkey, named Cornelius after a character in "Planet of the Apes."
The enclosure that now houses Cornelius won't be his permanent home. The nonprofit zoo plans to raise funds to build a larger habitat, Stearns said.
With that end in mind, Wild Things has created a Mystery Monkey Fan Club, with six levels of membership that range in cost from $10 to $1,000 and provide a variety of benefits, such as zoo discounts, photos of Cornelius and T-shirts. Information is available at www.mysterymonkeyfanclub.com.
Cornelius was captured in St. Petersburg a month ago after running wild in the area for several years.
Vernon Yates, the trapper who had pursued Cornelius since he was first spotted in Hudson in 2008, delivered the monkey to Wild Things after keeping him in quarantine since his capture.
"It's been a four-year ordeal," Yates said. "I feel very good about him being here."
Cornelius lives alone right now as he adapts to the surroundings, but eventually a female rhesus macaque that is past her breeding years will move in with him to keep him company, Stearns said.
That companionship is important and something Cornelius missed in his years on the run, said Don Woodman, a Safety Harbor veterinarian who provided medical care for the monkey.
"I don't think the public has grasped how incredibly lonely he has been," Woodman said.
The Mystery Monkey's real story is known only to him, but Woodman said the speculation is that he traveled from the Silver Springs area near Ocala where a group of rhesus macaques has made its home for decades.
Cornelius may have been booted out his troop during a battle over dominance. Likely, he headed south in search of other macaques, because the monkeys are social animals who want to be with their own kind, Woodman said.
Eventually, he ended up in this area, eluding capture in Hudson, Clearwater, Temple Terrace and others parts of the region before settling in for a long time in St. Petersburg.
While on the run, the monkey reached celebrity status with thousands of friends on a Facebook page. He also was featured on Comedy Central's "Colbert Report."
Woodman, though, said it seemed inevitable that eventually there would be a violent confrontation with a human, which was exactly what happened when the monkey bit a St. Petersburg woman.
After that, there could be just two outcomes, the veterinarian said. Cornelius would be killed or captured.
"For me, this has been a quest to save his life," Woodman said.