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"Mystery Monkey" starts monkeying around at new home at Dade City Wild Things

6:20 PM, Dec 3, 2012   |    comments
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Dade City, Florida -- A monkey that has been on the run throughout Tampa Bay for years moved into a new home on Monday.

For much of the day, the rhesus macaque that's come to be known as "The Mystery Monkey of Tampa Bay" rested on top of a wooden house inside a large enclosure at Dade City's Wild Things. He also slept, tried pulling some trees into his cage, and ate a lot of peanuts.

For his first week at Wild Things, the staff is overfeeding him so that he knows he doesn't have to fight with other animals for food. They also want him to know that he has a forever home.

"Now he doesn't have to worry about being chased by poachers or being run over by a car," says Randy Stearns, the president and head animal trainer at Dade City's Wild Things.

The Mystery Monkey's story started around 2008, as wildlife experts fielded calls about a rhesus macaque traveling through Tampa Bay.

"Started out in Hudson, moved to Clearwater, Temple Terrace, back through Palm Harbor and Gulfport and finally ended up in St. Pete," says Vernon Yates of Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation.

In St. Pete, he apparently scratched a woman. That monkey business brought him to Dade City.

"This monkey's extremely intelligent," Yates says. "I believe if someone wrote down the combination numbers, he'd open up the door in the cage and get out of here."

His smarts earned him the name Cornelius, after the character in Planet of the Apes. He tested positive for Monkey B Herpes, similar to human strains of herpes. It can be contagious when he sheds or through body fluid, so the exhibit has been carefully planned out with barriers around it to limit close human contact.

Dade City's Wild Things isn't open to the public on Mondays, but kids who got a sneak peek on Monday are giving the monkey good reviews.

"He's hiding from all the people. It looks like he's trying to be silly," says Alex Capocy. "I hope he has a good home."

The enclosure that Cornelius is in right now is temporary. Dade City's Wild Things has started a fan club to raise enough money to build him a permanent home and give him a monkey friend to play with.

"Like we like to people watch, monkeys like to people watch. It will be a good thing for him," says Stearns. "That way, he knows we're friends, we're not just trying to catch him and chase him all over three counties."

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