Friday, November 16, 2007

Florida Wildlife Officers Investigate New 'Strange Ape' Sighting

Wildlife officers were back in Baker County on Thursday trying to confirm new sightings of a large, hairy primate in running loose in the woods.

The new reports came in overnight -- two weeks after Baker County Animal Control confirmed what appeared to be a large ape in a tree off Harry Rewis Road, north of Macclenny, according to WJXT-TV.

A resident north of Glen St. Mary reported seeing the animal running through the woods late Wednesday night. Early Thursday, the man saw orange peels and other things that could be remnants of an orangutan meal. Animal Control Officer Tina Thomas saw what she described as a "big red fur ball" -- possibly an orangutan -- sitting in a tree.

"We got this call and this man said, 'You are just not going to believe this and I'm not crazy.' I said, 'What is it? We've heard a lot of things.' He said, 'I have a monkey in my tree.'" Thomas said. "I thought the man was on drugs. I said, 'Are you sure?' He was like, 'I'm telling you I'm not on drugs and I ain't been drinking.'"

Not equipped with the proper training to handle such an exotic animal, Thomas said she immediately called the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission to send an officer out.

When Thomas got to the scene, she saw the animal and realized the caller was right.

"We got the binoculars and could see the whole body of the ape. He was red with a lighter color face," Thomas said.

About 100 feet up in a tree, the ape fit the description of an orangutan. She said the ape was about 3 or 4 feet tall and was curled up, nesting in a pile of leaves.

"We were just wondering where he had come from and if he was wild or somebody's pet. But he was definitely wild. He didn't like people," said Rock Rohden, who saw the ape.

When Fish and Wildlife arrived at the scene, the officer couldn't identify the animal and did not want to try to tranquilize the animal because it was 100 feet off the ground, so he set out a box of doughnuts and told folks to call him if it came down.

The orangutan apparently did come down, but no one saw it. The morning after the ape was spotted, it was gone.

"The game warden stated to leave the animal be, that he would remove himself on his own and that he was probably scared and would go on his way to where he needed to be," Thomas said.

Orangutans, known for their red fur, are native to Malaysia and Indonesia.

Thomas speculated that the animal may be a refugee from an off-road tourist attraction that was damaged by the storms in 2004.

A large patas monkey was captured in Columbia County one year ago. State officials said it belonged to a homeowner who had a permit.

Officials said it has been about two weeks since anyone has spotted the ape. They said anyone who sees the animal is advised not to go near it and to immediately call the wildlife alert line at 888-404-3922.

Story here.

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