Curious Tommy feared dead after escape
Curious Tommy feared deadKIRSTY MCMURRAY
A New Plymouth zoo spent five days in lockdown after a monkey went missing more than a week ago.
Tommy the spider monkey found a small hole in his home at the Pouakai Zoo and sneaked out about noon on September 21. He has not been found.
Zoo co-manager Fiona Carson said she had little hope the 11-year-old primate was still alive.
"I'm 99 per cent sure he's dead, but I think there's a 1 per cent chance he's out there somewhere."
Ms Carson said Tommy poses little threat to humans, but could bite or "whack" someone if he became scared or agitated.
"He's about the size of a 1-year-old human baby and he couldn't kill anyone."
She guessed he would either be holed up in a shed, pinching food from someone's vege garden, or up a tree.
He might also seek out humans for help.
"He's been hand-reared, he's used to humans. He wouldn't know how to fend for himself, he even likes us to peel his bananas for him."
When his escape was discovered the monkey enclosure was immediately secured and the zoo notified its neighbours, the authorities and the Ministry of Primary Industries.
Tommy may have met a grisly end climbing on a power line which runs behind his cage or in the nearby Te Henui stream which was roaring the day he got out.
"Monkeys don't swim," Ms Carson said.
"They don't go for lessons down at the Todd Aquatic Centre like we do."
Ms Carson's hopes for his survival were further dampened by the severe thunderstorm which hit the night he escaped.
"He would've been wet and miserable and so, so frightened."
The spider monkey enclosure has a tin fence with a second layer of wire netting behind it, but the monkey's wooden house had no extra backing and when a panel came loose a hole to the outside opened up.
"These cages were built 30 years ago. It's a design flaw."
Tommy could have pulled the corner out to widen the gap enough to squeeze through, she said.
"He's just so curious and nosy, he wouldn't have been able to resist."
She said the fault had never been noticed by staff or anyone else, including the officials who conduct regular audits of the zoo. "We always pass with flying colours."
She said the enclosures which held lions and tigers and other dangerous animals were even more secure.
"There's no way they're getting out, it's impossible."
Tommy's cage-mates, Hannah and Evie, had not taken the opportunity to make a break for freedom and appeared to have given up on him.
"His girls aren't even calling for him. That makes me think they know he's gone, maybe they saw something, who knows."
Ms Carson first noticed Tommy was missing when she went to call him after lunch on Saturday.
"Usually they come rushing up to the cage but I could only see two monkeys and he didn't come when I called."
The zoo went into lockdown immediately and staff began scouring the area for the monkey.
"We looked everywhere. We went to all the neighbours, showed his photo, went on to farms, looked in people's sheds, he just wasn't anywhere."
Nobody in the neighbourhood had seen or heard the monkey.
"They bark like a dog when they are frightened."
If you find Tommy the spider monkey, do not approach him and ring the Pouakai Zoo on 06 7533788.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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