Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Black spider monkey briefly escapes at zoo

A black spider money briefly escaped its holding area at the Gladys Porter Zoo on Tuesday.

The monkey fled from its keepers as they tried to round up a group of monkeys for their annual physical. While monkey wasn’t able to get out of the zoo’s grounds, it did escape captivity for about two hours.

“You wouldn’t be working in a zoo if you didn’t have to catch something every once in a while,” said Jerry Stone, general curator in charge of mammals.

According to zoo employees, the incident started at about 10:30 a.m. when a group of six primate keepers paddled out to the small island inhabited by four black spider monkeys.

Once on the island, the men descended upon the monkeys, scooping two of them into their nets. With two of the monkeys under control, the keepers closed in on the last two, including Pita, a 7-year-old female.

“When you go out there with nets, they want to get away from you,” Stone said.

A spider monkey doesn’t like to swim, but with the primate keepers blocking access to the trees, the only escape route for the last two monkeys was the resaca.

Pita dove into the resaca, while the other monkey also made its attempt at freedom, drawing the attention of several primate keepers.

Pita dog-paddled to shore, leapt onto the visitor walkway, scampered around the resaca to Macaw Canyon. The primate keepers captured the other monkey, but even as its escape attempt was short-lived, the chase for Pita had just begun.

The men closed in on Pita, cornering her at Macaw Canyon, but once again, she evaded their nets. Pita scaled the Macaw Canyon fence, ran over the exhibit and disappeared.

“We completely lost control,” said Carlos Gonzalez, a primate keeper at the zoo. “We completely lost sight of her.”

Gonzalez and the others regrouped and contacted Stone, telling him about the escaped monkey.

“She can do all of this, but the guys that are chasing her can’t,” Stones said. “He has to go all the way around (the cage), so by the time he gets there, the monkey has moved on.”

Pita had made it to the zoo’s perimeter road and into a thick patch of thorny retamas and huisaches.

To trap her and seal off possible escape routes, several men ran the length of the park to access the perimeter road at one end, while Gonzalez closed in on Pita from the opposite direction.

Gonzalez slowly hacked through a long stretch of bushes. His plan was to flush Pita out of her hiding spot, but first he had to find her.

“I feed them around 3, and I always (whistle),” Gonzalez said. “When they hear that, they know the food is coming.”

Gonzalez’ whistling caught Pita’s attention, and eventually, she called back, which was all he needed locate her and flush her out.

Pita made one last attempt at escape, but Stone trapped her in a group of oleanders. From there, it was just a matter of getting his hands on her. At 12:45 p.m., Pita was finally captured.

“All I could do when I caught her was sort of kneel down and sort of (pant),” Stone said. “I had to just sit there because I was too tired.”

Story here.

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