Mystery Monkey of Tampa Bay Remains at Large

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As Tampa Bay, Florida, boosts its security for the 2012 Republican National Convention next week, one elusive primate remains at large: the so-called Mystery Monkey of Tampa Bay.

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The monkey, an adult male macaque, has been living freely in the sunny beach town for three to four years. As the New York Times recently reported:

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (known as the F.W.C.) came to believe that the macaque wasn’t a pet but had wandered out of a small population of free-roaming, wild macaques that live in a forest along the Silver River, 100 miles away.

That population apparently has existed in the central part of the state for at least 80 years. (Yet another monkey population, a small

troop of vervet monkeys, has lived near the Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood

International Airport for generations. The NYT further shares that the vervet monkeys are often found behind a certain Motel 6 and "have even adopted a raccoon into their ranks, treating it as 'a long-lost family member.'")

The good news about the wayward macaque, at least from his perspective, is that an anonymous couple has been feeding their unlikely backyard visitor.

It started with a banana one day, then led to grapes, peanuts, Oreo cookies and other goodies. Supposedly the macaque has now packed on an additional 10 pounds, with the couple nicknaming him "Banana Butt."

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That hasn't stopped the macaque from visiting fast food joints, a church parking lot and other places in the Florida vacation town.

There's a serious side to this tale, or course, given that macaques are wild animals and are not always the friendliest of creatures. For example, we've all seen the horrific headlines over the past several years about non-human primates attacking people, such as the Jane Goodall Institute chimp who attacked a Texas graduate student.

To be honest, however, if I were marching down the streets of Tampa Bay, I'd be more worried about gun-toting human criminals and certain politicians.

I guess I'm not alone, as the "Mystery Monkey" now has his own Facebook page with close to 84,000 likes as of this writing.

(Photo of the Mystery Monkey snapped by the "mystery couple" who feeds him; Facebook photo of the macaque)