SPRINGFIELD — Dizzy the monkey discovered exactly what those opposable thumbs are good for: evolutionary blessings, sure, but also escape tools that he put to good use when turning the doorknob to his enclosure at a zoo here.
Dizzy has been on the loose in and around The Zoo in Forest Park since his Tuesday afternoon escape. As of Wednesday evening, zoo workers knew Dizzy’s location, but were still working to recapture him.
Officials said the mission could take days. But, they said, Dizzy and his small frame pose no threat to the public.
Zoo workers have spotted the 12-pound Guenon monkey several times and have come close to recapturing him. But for more than 24 hours, Dizzy has dodged tranquilizer darts, eluded a cherry picker, and largely ignored the allure of his mate, Mitzy, and apricots, his favorite food.
“This is like losing a family member,” said Meghan Rothschild, a volunteer who handles the zoo’s marketing.
Dizzy is 8 years old and has lived at the zoo for two years. Until this week, he had been a pretty laid-back monkey, Rothschild said.
No zoo employee held a position too lofty to be enlisted in the search Wednesday — from volunteers to the zoo director, John Lewis Jr., who at one point wielded one of the zoo’s two tranquilizer rifles. The zoo even enlisted the help of the Springfield Police Department. Lieutenant Phil Tarpey carried the second tranquilizer gun. “He’s got a very good shot,” said one of Tarpey’s colleagues on the scene.
With Dizzy in their sights, officials have two options: use a tranquilizer to immobilize him and, eventually, bring him to safety, or use food to coax him from the trees.
Zoo workers tried both Wednesday. They shot at Dizzy twice with a tranquilizer gun and missed. They also fed the primates in the enclosures adjacent to Dizzy’s, hoping the clatter of food plates would trigger a Pavlovian response.
For about 30 minutes, the latter method was working.
The food had his attention, and he was lingering in a tree near his enclosure, said Darlene Blaney, the zoo’s business manager.
“We can tell he wants to get home,” she said.
“It’s a waiting game now.”
Dizzy spurned both Mitzy and the food and swung from tree to tree before landing on an oak branch near the zoo’s south end.
Below him, kangaroos, leopards, and camels all behaved, staying put in their respective areas or enclosures.
All eyes were trained on Dizzy.
That was a level of attention not present at the time of Dizzy’s escape.
A zoo worker, Blaney said, was cleaning Dizzy’s cage when the worker stepped out to assist a visitor. The zoo worker shut the door behind him, but forgot to lock it.
Dizzy was able to turn the doorknob, open the door, and make a run for it.
Zoo officials say they’ve never seen such an escape.
Dizzy was closest to being recaptured Tuesday, after he descended from a treetop. But, Blaney said, a child who tossed a hat at the monkey scared him off.
This prompted officials to release a statement, asking visitors and the media to let them handle the search: “We are now pleading with the public and the media to stay away from the zoo until Dizzy is returned safely. This could take days, so we appreciate your cooperation.”
Nikki Harvey, 32, of North Brookfield, went to the zoo with her sisters and her two children Wednesday. Six Flags was too crowded, they said.
The zoo was closed, but the park in which it sits remained open. The children were romping on a playground adjacent to the zoo when they saw Dizzy in a tree. Authorities then shut down that swath of the park.
The zoo will remain closed for the duration of the search, officials said. If the search continues into the night, Springfield police officers will use infrared cameras to track Dizzy.
Harvey’s sister Tabitha Audette, 28, of Ashford, Conn., said the children were disappointed the zoo was closed. They were excited to see the animals, she said.
The family was planning to wait out the search at a nearby cafe. As they walked, Audette took the hand of one of her nieces and said, “We’re going to go find that monkey ourselves.”
From a distance, one of the children could be heard asking whether the monkey was a biter. “Don’t worry,” one of the adults said. “We won’t let the monkey get you.”
Reis Thebault can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.