TAMPA - Trappers have quietly nabbed a third of the patas monkeys that escaped in April from the Safari Wild nature preserve in Polk County, and authorities say they are confident the capture of the rest is imminent.
The monkeys are not dangerous, and searchers know where they are, said Lex Salisbury, who owns the Safari Wild site under development north of Lakeland and is director of the Lowry Park Zoo.
If they had all stayed together it would have been easier to capture them, but news helicopters frighten the primates, he said, and they have split up since their escape April 19.
"We've caught one-third of them," Salisbury said Monday, "and we're confident that we're going to get the rest of them."
Last month, trappers captured two, an adult female and a baby, but the rest remained free for more than a month before another capture was made, he said. Three were trapped last week.
"We've caught five of them so far," he said. All are doing fine and are being kept at Lowry Park Zoo, he said.
The 10 that remain in the woods on private property bordering the southern edge of the Green Swamp appear to be healthy as well, he said. Initially, the plan was to feed them regularly to get their guards down and then net them all in one attempt, maybe two, if necessary. When they scattered, that plan was scrapped, he said.
"We've only been able to catch one or two at a time at the most," he said, "when we were hoping to catch five or six at a time."
Had it not been for the news helicopters hovering over the area, he said, "I would have had them the first day or second day, all in one social group."
A couple of days after their escape, it was a news helicopter pilot who spotted the group and directed searchers to the area where they were located.
The troop was captured in Puerto Rico and was scheduled to be euthanized when an animal rescue group stepped in and placed them at Safari Wild preserve in April.
The monkeys were on an acre-size island surrounded by a moat about 8 feet deep. Two days after arriving, the primates surprised keepers by swimming across the moat and scaling a fence.
When the group split up shortly after its escape, one adult male took off for the 860-square-mile Green Swamp. He was one of those captured last week when he returned to one of the groups, Salisbury said.
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission spokesman Gary Morse said Monday that the investigation into the escape will continue until the monkeys are all caught.