Going ape shit in Tampa

Snapshot of the elusive monkey. Find out more about the  macaque, and see more pics here


While the threat of anarchist mayhem at the RNC has people preoccupied just about as much as the hurricane rolling towards Florida’s Gulf Coast, there’s another righteous menace that’s been baffling the authorities of the Tampa Bay area: a feral monkey.

The following are some excerpts from a brilliant and absurd story by Jon Mooallem published last week in the New York Times chronicling the adventures of a lone macaque who’s been evading the law since 2009, living out a wild, rebellious dream that many of us share, not to mention, launching excrement at cops and getting away with it


The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (known as the FWC) 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.

More than three and a half years later, the macaque is still on the loose. After outmaneuvering the cops in Clearwater, the animal eventually showed up on the opposite side of Old Tampa Bay, somehow crossing the West Courtney Campbell Causeway, a low-lying bridge nearly 10 miles long. (The FWC posits that it hid in the back of a covered truck.) That fall, it materialized in a low-income neighborhood in East Tampa, crouching in a tree. Guessing it was a raccoon, an FWC lieutenant scaled a ladder and barked at it. The monkey urinated on him and disappeared…

An FWC  spokesman also told the press, “They’re infamous for throwing feces at things they don’t like.”

The state considers the animal a potential danger to humans and, like all invasive species, an illegitimate and maybe destructive part of Florida’s ecology. But the public came to see the monkey as an outlaw, a rebel — a nimble mascot for “good, old-fashioned American freedom,” as one local reporter put it. This week, tens of thousands of Republicans will pour into Tampa. There will be lots of national self-scrutiny and hand-wringing at the convention center downtown. But the most fundamental questions — What exactly is government for? Where are the lines between liberty, tyranny and lawlessness? — have been shaking the trees around Tampa for years

The monkey first 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.

[On a side note, Yates later told the article’s author that “during the Republican convention, he’d take one of his tigers — 3 of the 17 at his house are personal pets — on his boat and just sit on the river in front of the convention center, with a sign condemning the USDA.]

Read the full story for yourself here.

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