Florida FWC Warns Residents to Stay Away From Monkey

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The elusive rhesus macaque monkey darting around the Tampa Bay area and cheered on by 60,000 Facebook fans is generating a lot of banter. However, wildlife officials caution that this monkey is highly stressed and potentially very dangerous, and is itself in danger.

According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), rhesus macaques are bad-tempered, powerful monkeys that, if cornered, can injure or even kill an adult human. Of particular concern to wildlife officials is that some area residents are not taking these warnings seriously and are tempting fate by trying to feed or catch this animal with their hands - a very risky and foolish undertaking, according to the FWC.

The Centers for Disease Control reports that roughly 80 percent of rhesus macaques carry the simian herpes-B virus. If the animal bites, scratches or even spits on you (one of many bad habits this species exhibits), you may become infected. If infected with this virus, there's an 80-percent chance you will die from an untreated wound. Even a treated wound can be fatal.

"Although this marauding monkey makes for humorous reading and anecdotes around the water cooler, people should not lose sight of what's best for the animal and for public safety," said Dr. David Murphy, staff veterinarian at Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo.

According to the FWC, feeding wildlife is the primary factor causing wildlife to destroy property and to attack pets and humans. Monkeys are no exception.

"Encouraging this animal to approach or remain close to humans for any reason can lead to a defensive attack if the animal feels trapped or otherwise threatened by miscued human body language," said Capt. John West, who deals with captive wildlife issues for the FWC's Division of Law Enforcement.

Also in doubt is the monkey's ability to continue to live on its own in a hostile, urban environment. Rhesus macaques have a highly evolved society where the health and well-being of each individual is largely dependent on the cooperation of other troop members, especially for defense purposes. A lone rhesus macaque stands little chance for long-term survival outside its troop. Predation on a lone macaque by urban coyotes, bobcats or neighborhood dogs is a distinct possibility. Other factors such as high-volume traffic, high-voltage power lines and other urban hazards add to the mix of threats to the creature.

Monkeys in any situation are difficult to capture, even for the most experienced experts, and the challenge is magnified in a highly stressful urban setting. So far, this animal has managed to avoid capture through sheer athleticism, sharp eyesight, an apparently intuitive understanding of the dangers of crossing the street and a lot of luck. Such luck, however, is not likely to continue indefinitely.

"We understand the need for comic relief, as well as the compassion people feel for this engaging creature. Those things, however, are not of primary concern to our agency. Rather, it's how people act upon those feelings that can cause serious consequences to those in direct contact with the monkey," said Gary Morse, spokesman for the FWC. "This animal's only real chance for survival is to be caught and then cared for by an accredited facility, where it can interact with other members of its own kind."

The FWC urges those who see this monkey not to feed, try to capture or interact with it in any way. If you spot this animal, return to the safety of a building or your vehicle and immediately call the FWC's Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-3922, and leave the monkey business to the FWC.