What’s a Monkey to Do in Tampa?
The monkey appeared behind a Bennigan’s. The Bennigan’s was one in a row of free-standing, fast-casual joints in Clearwater, Fla., just outside Tampa, that also includes a Panda Express and a Chipotle. At one end, a Perkins Family Restaurant flies a preposterously large Stars and Stripes in its front yard, as if it were a federal building or an aircraft carrier.
Someone spotted the monkey poking through a Dumpster around lunchtime. When a freelance animal trapper named Vernon Yates arrived, all he could make out was an oblong ball of light brown fur, asleep in the crown of an oak. It was a male rhesus macaque — a pink-faced, two-foot-tall species native to Asia. It weighed about 25 pounds.
No pet macaques were reported missing around Tampa Bay — there wasn’t even anyone licensed to own one in the immediate area. Yates, who is called by the state wildlife agency to trap two or three monkeys a year, was struck by how “streetwise” this particular one seemed. Escaped pet monkeys tend to cower and stumble once they’re out in the unfamiliar urban environment, racing into traffic or frying themselves in power lines. But as Yates loaded a tranquilizer dart into his rifle, this animal jolted awake, swung out of the canopy and hit the ground running. It made for the neighboring office park, where it catapulted across a roof and reappeared, sitting smugly in another tree, only to vanish again. Yates was left dumbstruck, balancing at the top of a ladder. (By then, a firetruck had been called in to assist him.) “There’s no way to describe how intelligent this thing is,” he told me recently.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (known as the F.W.C.) came to believe that the macaque wasn’t a pet but had wandered out of a small population of free-roaming, wild macaques that live in a forest along the Silver River, 100 miles away. Soon, the F.W.C. was warning that wild macaques can carry the herpes B virus, which, though not easily transmitted to humans, can be fatal. A spokesman also told the press, “They’re infamous for throwing feces at things they don’t like.”