The four-year search for a fugitive primate has come to an end. St. Pete's 'Mystery Monkey' has finally been captured and is now at a sanctuary.
Although the monkey has been on the run for quite a while, the search intensified after he bit a woman in a south St. Pete neighborhood a couple of weeks ago.
Finally, we got to see the mystery monkey up close, in a cage at the Animal Hospital of Northwood in Safety Harbor. He was there to get blood drawn and be tested for all sorts of thing, before going to that private animal sanctuary.
The monkey's eyes looked a little woozy from being tranquilized, otherwise he's OK.
"It's sweet that he can now be in a sanctuary and be with it's own species," said Shannon, who asked that we only use her first name. She lives in the cul-de-sac where the monkey had been hanging around the longest in his wild adventure.
Shannon and her family say his capture is bittersweet. He'd become almost like a pet to them.
"It wasn't unusual to come out here, have my cup of coffee, see him sitting just a few yards away from me," she said.
He was sitting on his favorite branch in a tree in her backyard.
"Right on here," Shannon said pointing to a branch. "He would just sit and watch everything you know."
Her mom Elizabeth got emotional as the monkey was taken away.
"I just got my last rabies shot and everything's gone well," she said.
She had been bitten and scratched by the monkey a couple weeks ago.
"Very carefully carried him out like he was a baby and we got to say goodbye," she said. "He was still out and I'm like, Oh Lord, when he wakes up, he's gonna be mad!"
Wildlife officials staked out the area. Initially, they'd hope to use a live monkey named "Doc" as bait to lure the monkey out. But some good old-fashioned waiting around did the trick Wednesday morning. They got to the neighborhood around 9 a.m. and by 12:30 p.m., they had their monkey.
"Just sat there for four hours and waited to see if the animal would come down and he came down in a clearing," said Baryl Martin with the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Their first attempts with an almost Herculean amount of tranquilizer had failed before.
"I gave him enough that it should have brought down a Tampa Bay Buccaneer linebacker and he just shrugged it off," said Dr. Don Woodman, who got the monkey using his tranquilizer rifle.
"It was my first shot," chuckled Woodman. "I practice in my backyard. He pulled the dart out and was holding it in his hands so I could see that I'd hit him."
But the monkey didn't get sleepy from the first shot.
"When this dart impacts the animal," Woodman said, holding the 6-inch dart, "there's actually a small charge that fires the drug into the animal."
Wildlife rescuer Vernon Yates, who'd been hired by the state to bring the monkey in, was not about to lose him now. But at nearly 50 pounds, the monkey was strong.
"He's twice the monkey he was when we started after him a couple years ago," said Yates.
"He's been thriving on Oreos, that's what people have been feeding him," added Dr. Woodman.
"I was just bound and determined, this close, he was not getting away," Yates continued. "Yeah, I pretty much tackled him, him and I rolled a couple times in the underbrush."
A second shot fired from Dr. Woodman's tranquilizer pistol and the monkey conked out. Woodman said this was the best possible outcome.
"If you can imagine being on a desert island by yourself, that's what this monkey has been doing, it's been tragic," said Woodman.
"The neighborhood is grateful that they're not going to be under the scrutiny they have been in the past, and they are sad to see the animal they've been used to be seeing in the area disappear," said Martin.
"Off and on I'd catch a glimpse of him, which was exciting to see him," said Jodi Kaufman, a neighbor who lives near where the monkey was captured. "He doesn't really belong here; he belongs with other monkeys, so I think this is good."
"They're sad to see it go, but they understand why it has to happen," said Martin.
The monkey's already been moved from the hospital to a private animal sanctuary where he'll be quarantined for 30 days. Then, he goes to a private rescue facility where he can live and play with other monkeys just like him.
They even hope to pair him up with a monkey girlfriend.