TAMPA — Just when you thought it was safe to walk through the woods without fear of being pelted by poop winged by a treed monkey, sightings of a rhesus macaque in the Apollo Beach area have popped up over the past few weeks.
Blurry cellphone photos of the creature have been making their way onto social media sites, and state wildlife officials and a local trapper are on the case.
The sightings come about 16 months after the capture of Cornelius, a rhesus macaque which vexed and thrilled residents in Pinellas County for four years. So popular was Cornelius, supporters created social media sites for the primate, and his following grew each time he narrowly avoided capture. His reign ended in October 2012 when he was hit with a tranquilizer dart fired from a rifle wielded by Vernon Yates, director of Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation.
Yates said there may be two monkeys in south Hillsborough County, one in Apollo Beach, spotted in the Mira Bay community, and one spotted in Parrish, more than 10 miles away. Or, he said, it could be the same macaque.
As with Cornelius, catching the creature will be a challenge, Yates said.
“He’s still mobile,” Yates said. “He’s here right now and gone. But, if the opportunity arises, we’re going to get him.”
The Apollo Beach monkey also will be hunted with a tranquilizer rifle, he said.
Yates said the Apollo Beach monkey, which as yet does not have a name, likely originated from the Silver Springs attraction near Ocala, where monkeys were either brought there for the filming of a 1939 Tarzan movie or by a jungle cruise entreprenuer a year earlier. The attraction fed the monkeys to keep them nearby but turned operations over to the state last year, signaling the end of the free monkey lunch, Yates said.
“Just like the last one (Cornelius), he probably is a castoff from Silver Springs,” Yates said, adding that more and more monkeys are leaving the attraction grounds, searching for food.
They can travel long distances, he said. “That troop of monkeys there will start looking for new places to eat and I have a sneaky feeling, we are going to see a lot more of them around.”
He said they could travel from Ocala to the Tampa area, nearly 100 miles, with little problem.
“When time’s on your side,” he said, “you don’t really care. It’s no big deal to travel that distance.”
Cornelius wound up in a wildlife preserve in Dade City.
People who come across the monkey should not approach it, Yates said. The monkey could be aggessive and bite, and many monkeys carry the herpes B virus, as did Cornelius.
“Please do not feed it, do not corner it or try to catch it,” he said. “If he does get caught in a garage or room or any other confined space, don’t try to release him or catch him.”
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission spokesman Gary Morse confirmed the sightings.
“We’ve seen photos of it,” Morse said. “It appears to be a rhesus monkey.
“The message is the same,” he said. “Do not feed it or approach it. This particular species can be destructive and can be a health risk.”
He said anyone who sees the monkey should call the state wildlife hotline at 1-888-404-3922.
Meanwhile, the buzz about the monkey is catching on, not just in the area, but elsewhere as well. The Daily Mail, a newspaper in Great Britain, ran a story about the beast in its online edition Tuesday.
On Monday, two or three customers at The Very Best Barbers in Apollo Beach talked about the mystery monkey.
“One lady said she couldn’t believe the monkey lives in her neighborhood,” said barber Travis Hackett, who hadn’t heard about the creature until this week.
He said he was fine with the monkey hiding out in Apollo Beach.
“It’s pretty neat as long as it doesn’t come bother us,” Hackett said. “It can come get a haircut as long as it’s paying.”
Tribune reporter Jose Patino Girona contributed to this report.