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2 Fugitive Monkeys Slip Up on a Bunch of Bananas

August 29, 1985|SAUL RUBIN | Times Staff Writer

SAN FRANCISCO — After nearly seven weeks of eluding a citywide search by zoo personnel, local psychics and a professional tracker, two fugitive patas monkeys were captured Wednesday when they gave into the one culinary temptation that was absent during their adventure: bananas.

Ever since they escaped from the San Francisco Zoo on July 11, the mother patas monkey and her 4-month-old baby had frequently been seen roaming the city's streets, backyards and wooded areas with no apparent interest in returning to the zoo's plush surroundings.

But after tracking the wayward primates to a wooded area near the University of California Medical Center, a zoo search team this week baited a box-like trap with the coveted yellow fruit and waited.

Wednesday morning, the mother entered the trap and reached for the bananas, springing the device and ending her freedom, officials said. Within minutes, after the mother was anesthetized and left in the trap, her baby joined her.

"They do not look like animals that have been through the mill," said zoo spokeswoman Jane Tollini, commenting on the monkeys' apparent good health. "They had access to all kinds of food--except bananas."

Tollini estimated that the patas covered about 20 miles of the city during their journey, swinging through backyard trees and crossing major thoroughfares with ease. They finally settled into a wooded Mt. Sutro area a few miles from the zoo.

There, Tollini said, the monkeys enjoyed a comfortable life style, routinely dining at a nearby community garden and enjoying such delicacies as Japanese plums. A nearby reservoir provided plentiful water.

Wednesday's capture, accomplished with what Tollini termed a "crude, simple trap," succeeded where various other solutions attempted by frustrated zoo and city personnel had failed.

When the patas first escaped from the zoo's new $7-million Primate Center, zoo director Saul Kitchener went out with a net intending to bring them back.

"We ended up just chasing them around the neighborhood," Kitchener said.

Patas, it turns out, can run and swing through trees at speeds of up to 35 m.p.h.

The zoo then hired primatologist Janice Chism, who had spent several years tracking patas in Kenya, hoping that her professional experience would do the trick.

Tips Called In

But when Chism failed to trap the missing animals after a brief period, Supervisor Louise Renne sought the aid of local psychics. Several called her with tips on the whereabouts of the patas, with one confidently disclosing that the monkeys were eating pasta in a local restaurant.

But in the end, according to Kitchener, it was the systematic tracking by Chism and a staff of 25 zoo workers that finally landed the patas back in captivity.

"We didn't use a psychic banana, I'll tell you that," Kitchener said.

Conceding that the patas obviously do not like their accommodations at the zoo, Kitchener said he will be looking for a new, secure home for the monkeys.

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