Monday, January 05, 2009

Monkey Saga Behind Zoo Controversy Has Ended

escaped monkeysThe last of 15 monkeys that escaped from Safari Wild have been recovered, ending a saga that set in motion the events leading to the resignation today of Lowry Park Zoo President Lex Salisbury.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission spokesman Gary Morse confirmed that the five monkeys still at large in late October have been accounted for. Four of them were trapped, at least one this week, and one was found dead in the woods of the Green Swamp.

"It was shot and killed by some unknown person," Morse said.

No further investigation is expected. "They are not protected in any way, shape or form," Morse said. "They're an exotic species."

All the monkeys were found in the area of Safari Wild, the exotic-animal park north of Lakeland that Salisbury owns as a side business. The four surviving monkeys were returned to Safari Wild and are secure in cages, Morse said.

"We're sending our investigator up there Monday to count heads," he added.

The park has not opened to the public yet and at least three government agencies have said Salisbury and partner Stephen Wehrmann moved ahead without the proper approvals.

The troop of moneys was captured in Puerto Rico about a year ago and was headed for euthanasia when an animal rescue group stepped in. The monkeys were shipped in April to Safari Wild.

They were kept on a manmade, 1-acre island surrounded by a moat that at some points was 60 feet wide and 8 feet deep.

Two days after arriving, they escaped.

The monkeys, including some females with babies on their backs, swam across the moat and scaled a large fence to reach nearby woods. They split up and survived in the wild, eluding attempts to capture them.

As they let their guard down, they began to fall prey to traps baited with fresh fruit.

By July, 10 of the 15 had been caught and returned to the sanctuary.

Their story made national headlines and drew public attention to Safari Wild.

The subsequent scrutiny raised questions about a potential conflict of interest for Salisbury and brought on the city of Tampa audit that resulted in his resignation today.

The audit states that Salisbury used zoo animals, employees and equipment for his personal gain.

Story here.

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