Mystery monkey of Tampa Bay becomes a Facebook phenomenon

At last count, the mystery monkey of Tampa Bay – who has been avoiding (not outwitting) Florida authorities for a year – has 31,000 Facebook fans.

Renee Barth/AP/St. Petersburg Times
The mystery monkey of Tampa Bay was last seen here, in the swimming pool enclosure of Renee Barth in St. Petersburg, Fla., before it took a quick dip and scampered away. Wildlife officials have been trying to catch the fugitive for more than a year. But the monkey's 31,000 Facebook fans aren't so keen on that idea.

A fugitive monkey living for a year on fruit and trash in the Tampa suburbs is fast on his way to becoming a major cult hero with his own Facebook page and a growing list of devoted fans.

“Don’t let them catch you!!!!! Run like the wind little monkey,” writes Alexa on the Mystery Monkey of Tampa Bay Facebook page.

“Best wishes all the way from South Korea. Stick it to the man,” writes Jonathan, another supporter.

The object of all this attention is a rhesus macaque monkey which has been spotted for the past year in backyards from Tampa to St. Petersburg.

A Florida wildlife tracker had been hot his trail for months, but the little guy is fast and strong and has a knack for pushing the dart away before the tranquilizer can take effect.

The effort is attracting international attention, and most of the monkey’s fans are apparently opposed to efforts by Florida officials to catch and cage the elusive primate. Many are actively rooting for the monkey to, well, make a monkey of the would-be trappers.

Atop the evolutionary tree?

Florida officials are beginning to feel a bit defensive.

“This monkey is not outsmarting us,” says Gary Morse of Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. “This monkey is getting away based on its athletic ability developed over years and years of evolution.”

The now-famous monkey was last seen on Sunday in St. Petersburg swinging from a tree in a backyard pool enclosure. Reports are that the monkey dropped into the pool, scrambled out and was last seen fleeing with some grapefruit.

Mr. Morse is attempting to counteract the growing circus atmosphere with a warning. “This is a very powerful and fast animal,” he says. He says rhesus monkeys also pose a health risk.

“We are asking that people not feed it, not attempt to approach or catch it, but call us. Let us know its location,” Morse says.

Please don't feed the international superstar

The plan may not work. The monkey already has more than 31,000 facebook friends. And that number seems to be growing by the minute.

“OMG I just found out about you. You are cute and awesome,” writes Soma. “Rock on!”

“Don’t forget to wear your big sunglasses and baseball cap little monkey so they won’t recognize you,” Trish advises. “And keep running.”

Officials say they have checked with all licensed owners of rhesus monkeys and none are unaccounted for. They say the fugitive may have been an unregistered pet that escaped or was released.

The other theory is that the little guy is an outcast from a group of wild rhesus monkeys that have been living in the forest near Silver Springs, Fla., since the 1930s. They were first brought there as part of a planned jungle cruise ride on the Silver River. In the 1930s and 1940s, several of the original Tarzan movies were filmed near Silver Springs.

Whoever set up the Mystery Monkey of Tampa Bay Facebook page somehow managed to obtain an interview with the fugitive himself.

“There is some serious monkey business going on around here,” the web page quotes the monkey as saying. “Hope everyone is having a great day, as for me I’m enjoying my freedom!!!!! Hey, what’s that… Uh Oh, gotta go…..”

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