By Matt Wiley
After spending four years running from the “law,” a fugitive is behind bars, but it’s not the kind of fugitive that probably springs instantly to mind.
“Cornelius,” the “Mystery Monkey of Tampa Bay,” was moved into his new home at Dade City’s Wild Things (just a few miles north of Wesley Chapel) on December 3, after evading trappers around the Tampa Bay area for more than four years. From Clearwater to Temple Terrace, Dunedin to Pinellas Point, Cornelius has taken wildlife rescuer Vernon Yates on quite a wild ride.
“He’s a very intelligent animal,” says Yates, who also is the founder and director of Seminole-based Wildlife Rescue & Rehabilitation, Inc. “It got to the point where he’d actually recognize my truck. He’d be sitting in a tree and as soon as he’d see me pull up, he’d take off.”
Yates explains that Cornelius could have been caught much sooner, as he has been able to hit the monkey with tranquilizer darts numerous times. However, Cornelius would run up into a tree before falling asleep. Yates says that knocking on someone’s door and trying to explain to that person that he’d just shot a monkey that ran into their backyard usually gave Cornelius enough time to escape.
During the past four years, Yates explains, the rhesus macaque monkey has used his intelligence to avoid both capture and the deadly mistakes that many other less intelligent animals commonly make, such as making contact with power lines or trying to cross busy intersections.
Since his capture in south St. Petersburg on October 24, Cornelius has been in Yates’ custody at his wildlife refuge until a proper home was found, which Yates determined to be Dade City’s Wild Things, the 22-acre zoo that is home to more than 250 animals, including several other species of macaque.
“It’s been a four-year ordeal and people kept asking me what I would do with the monkey when I finally caught him,” explains Yates. “I just wanted someone who could give him a good home and didn’t want him just for the publicity. There was another facility in Lakeland that was interested, but they since backed out, so I decided on Wild Things.”
Cornelius’ new home isn’t too shabby, either. He currently lives alone in a 14 ft. x 14 ft. cage made of 9-guage chain link on a cement slab, shielded by a glass pane – a health requirement since Cornelius was diagnosed with being infected with the herpes B virus following his capture. His cage also features swings, a small, heated house and a feeding station. After 30 days, other macaques will be introduced into his environment.
“He’s adjusting pretty well,” says Wild Things director Kathy Stearns. “At first he explored everything and ate some food from a high spot in the cage. He seems comfortable. Curious, but comfortable.”
Dade City’s Wild Things, located at 37245 Meridian Ave. in Dade City, is currently setting up a “Mystery Monkey Fan Club” to help raise funds to pay for the maintenance of Cornelius’ new cage. For more information about how to get involved, or to make a donation, please visit DadeCitysWildThings.com.