MIAMI, March 25, 2010 -- Known as the "Mystery Monkey of Tampa Bay," a rhesus macaque has run amok in the Tampa Bay area for nearly a year, eluding state wildlife officials and capturing the hearts of locals.
Home video shot by Tampa residents and broadcast on local TV stations shows the macaque rummaging through trash bins, scaling walls in a single bound, even hanging out poolside and swiping fruit.
On at least a dozen occasions Florida Fish and Wildlife officials shot the plucky primate with tranquilizer darts. Increasingly large doses barely fazed him. One professional trapper, hunting the monkey, wondered whether the monkey had become a "drug addict."
Buoyed by his successive escapes fans have championed the 20 pound monkey as a local hero. A Facebook fan page "Mystery Monkey of Tampa Bay," already boasts 43,000 fans and is growing by 15,000 fans a day. His location has been listed as "all over."
The macaque's image has even been used in a spoof of the iconic Obama "HOPE" T-shirt made famous by artist Shepard Fairey. Other pictures of the ape, photoshopped to look grainy, depict the primate gamely riding the Loch Ness Monster and waiving.
Wildlife Expert: 'Rambo of Primates' Quicker Than People Expect
You can even buy a "Mystery Monkey" T-shirt for $18.00.
Gary Morse, a spokesman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, understands the humor, but warns the rhesus macaque is dangerous.
Depicting him as the Rambo of primates he told ABC News "That animal is so much quicker and more powerful than people perceive."
Untrained professionals trying to capture him could be seriously hurt he added, since "he's perfectly capable of doing damage to a human."
And his germs may be even more potent than his bite: Morse said the monkey could infect a potential fan/captor with Hepatitis B or Simeon Herpes.
No one is certain of the ape's origin, but Morse believes he may be an outcast from a troop of rhesus macaque's living on a preserve near Ocala Florida, about 100 miles away. He said that troop is a relic of the half dozen Tarzan flicks shot there in the 1930s and 1940s.
Wildlife Expert: Leave 'Monkey Business' to Professionals
Or, he may have escaped from a local owner who purchased the monkey illegally.
Morse said that primates are always difficult to capture, especially arboreal species like rhesus macaques. But a macaque hopped up on adrenaline by cheering crowds, helicopters overhead and bystanders has made a primate like "mystery monkey" nearly impossible to catch.
The bottom line said Morse, clearly undaunted by the recent flood of monkey puns is, "people should leave the monkey business to us."