Wildlife officials are working to trap Tampa Bay's infamous mystery monkey after it reportedly bit and scratched a 60-year-old woman in south St. Petersburg Wednesday.
The monkey has been on the run for several years, spotted as far north as Pasco County, Temple Terrace, Town ‘N Country, and Clearwater before ending up in the southern tip of Pinellas County.
That's where the monkey has taken refuge for the past year and a half, without much attention.
But that all changed Wednesday when authorities say the monkey came from behind the woman while she was sitting on the ground.
It's not exactly clear what happened, but the woman ended up with scratches and bite marks, which you can see in a photo of her upper back provided to FOX 13 News by the Tampa Bay Times.
"I don't believe we can call it an attack. I think it's more that the monkey jumped on her back, both sides freaked out," said wildlife trapper Vernon Yates, who has been chasing the monkey for years, and urging the public not to have contact with him.
"Some of them are superficial scratches. Some of them, she has puncture wounds on her back. I mean, it was very traumatic," the woman's daughter said.
FOX 13 is not naming the woman, her daughter, or disclosing where the incident happened at the request of wildlife officials, who fear that too many people coming to the area would scare the monkey away.
The woman's daughter says, however things unfolded, it's all gone too far.
"It is what it is at the end of the day. It attacked her. I have small children, I have a handicapped child I walk outside with. I don't want it jumping on him, my daughter or anything else," she said.
And Yates, who has repeatedly warning against feeding the monkey, agreed.
"It's gotta to be resolved, because if he's done it once, chances are he's going to do it again," he said.
Trappers and investigators have set up multiple traps with fruit and sandwiches, and even have another monkey named ‘Doc' ready to help.
"The monkey out there screams, hollers and so forth, Doc will answer him in their own monkey language, and so I think you're going to find that that's going to be the prime bait to get him to come in," Yates said.
What happens to the elusive monkey after that isn't clear. It may have to be destroyed to be tested for rabies. But if that can be avoided, Yates said he has two homes lined up where the monkey could live safely.
From FOX 13's Stef DiPietrantonio:
After four years on the run, the end could be near for St. Pete's mystery monkey.
Wildlife officers are stepping up their search, after the monkey scratched and bit a 60-year-old woman. It happened in Lakewood Estates Monday, near the Boyd Hill Nature Park in South St. Petersburg.
Its believed the monkey had been living in that area for about 18 months and this is one smart monkey. He's out-foxed officials for years now.
And the neighborhood is sad. It's been cool, people told us, having this wild animal swinging through their trees. But now that he's attacked someone, he's got to go.
"Jumped on her, she jumped back, threw the monkey off of her, went to run in the house and monkey jumped on her back again and proceeded to bite her on the neck," said a woman who told us her name was Shannon. She said the rogue rhesus macaque monkey has never been aggressive until now. It's been a fascination for many folks since 2008.
"Some of them are superficial scratches, some of them she has puncture wounds on her back I mean it was very traumatic," Shannon said.
"I don't believe we can call it an attack," said Vernon Yates, who's a wildlife rescuer, hired by the state to bring the monkey in. "I think it's more that the monkey jumped on her back, both sides freaked out."
Yates said the clever monkey maybe got a little too comfortable in the heavily wooded south St. Pete neighborhood, where people have been leaving fruit for him to eat.
"The macaque has been fed, whether it be intentionally or unintentionally," said Baryl Martin, with the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission. "It's in the same area where it's been able to locate food."
A trap has been set, to hopefully lure and capture the errant monkey, then test him for rabies. The woman is getting shots just in case the monkey carries any diseases.
"That doesn't sound like the right behavior for a monkey," said Dr. Melissa Webster with the Tampa Veterinary Hospital. "That sounds a little scary."
Webster said she knows how frightened the woman must be.
"I know personally," she said. "I was bitten many moons ago and was given a year to live."
She's okay now and said rabies symptoms can range from a very dull animal to one that's overly aggressive.
"In dogs and cats we have some different regulations, where we can quarantine an animal maybe for ten days and see if they pass away from rabies," said Webster. "In some wildlife, it's a whole different scenario. We have to submit the brain to be tested for rabies."
And then, send the monkey's brain to the state lab.
Megan Nelson said her father hears him scurrying across their roof at night, so she made a sign that reads, "Run monkey run!"
"I wanna see what it looks like," said the 11-year-old enthusiastically, before the animal is captured.
Until then, wildlife officials are asking the curious to stay away.
"Any extra activity in the area could scare the animal away," Martin said.
The next step is using another "live" monkey as bait in a cage near the one that's loaded with fruit and sandwiches for the mystery monkey.
The hope is, the sounds and smells of the real thing, will finally bring this monkey drama to a close.
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