Monkey on the run a Florida folk hero

(CBS News) ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - How's this for a turnabout: a monkey that has humans scratching their heads. We go in search for this elusive primate ... on the road.

He's just a little monkey no larger than a couch cushion. But here in St. Petersburg, Florida, this little Rhesus Macaque has made big news.

For nearly three years now, the Tampa Bay TV stations have been following this monkey like a hurricane. Police have been trailing him too.

No one is exactly sure where the monkey came from -- he could be a runaway pet or a descendant of some monkeys left in Florida after a Tarzan movie shoot. Regardless, authorities say he doesn't belong and needs to be caught.

"I will get him," said animal trapper Vernon Yates, the monkey's arch enemy. He's already darted him several times, but the animal always gets away.

"If I could get close enough to the monkey, I would just tackle him, he said. "Him and I would go to fighting on the ground."

To Vernon, this has become personal.

"I realize he's made a monkey out of me," he said. "In some ways I'll give him credit that he is. He knows not to get up into power lines. He'll run to a road, he stops and looks both ways for traffic before he runs across it. This is one of the most intelligent monkeys that I think I have ever seen."

The monkey is also a master of public relations. Over the years, he's posed for many priceless photo ops on people's back porches, endearing him to the community and winning him snacks galore.

Even this grandma, who recently got scratched and bit by the monkey, wishes him no harm.

"I feel really bad," she said. "I do not want to see the monkey shot or put down."

"People just want it to be free. It's a free loving animal," said Bill McArdle, owner of a video production company. He started the "Mystery Monkey" Facebook page and also sold T-shirts supporting the simian. "Yeah, he represents freedom," he said, "freedom why this whole country was founded on."

But Vernon begs to differ. "I'm sorry, I don't think freedom is all that nice. No, nobody can convince me that freedom is great."

The point he was trying to make is that it's better to be in a cage with others of your species than running around all alone. It's also why he's convinced the monkey will fall for his latest scheme -- a trap baited with another live male monkey.

Asked about using a female monkey instead, Vernon answered back: "You got one? I don't either."

If it works, though, Vernon is promising the monkey his own harem -- a tempting deal for any male primate. But even if the monkey accepts, Vernon admits that may not be the end of this.

"If we put him in a cage and lock him up with some other girls, is he going to be smart enough to break out of the cage and take the girls with him?" he asked.

People here can only hope.

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  • Steve Hartman

    Steve Hartman has been a CBS News correspondent since 1998, having served as a part-time correspondent for the previous two years.

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