Shelly Ladd prepared the diets for 159 diabetic monkeys like she typically does on Sunday mornings.
Ladd, 66, cleaned up from concocting the diets around 10:30 a.m. when a Jungle Friends Primate Sanctuary caretaker walked into the building and asked her why a monkey was sitting outside.
Carli the capuchin monkey perched outside on the concrete and scanned her surroundings. Just an hour ago, she and her enclosure mate, Andy, had eaten their breakfasts as normal.
Jungle Friends Primate Sanctuary founder Kari Bagnall attracted Carli into her trailer with a Fig Newton treat, but she opened the door and scurried out once she saw a caretaker with a net approach her.
Bagnall said Carli ran out toward the front of the property near Florida State Road 121. Employees ran after her, but when Carli saw people chasing her, she crossed 121 at Florida State Road 128 and made a left turn.
Then, she disappeared.
“In 20 years, this is the only monkey that’s ever left the property,” Ladd said. “Carli is just a nice, quiet monkey.”
Ladd said an escape didn’t sound like Carli’s personality, and Andy hasn’t eaten because he’s been depressed since Carli left. The two have been a couple at Jungle Friends for about 15 years.
Caretakers took Andy out of the sanctuary in a cage and brought him toward the road so that his screeches could alert Carli.
It was now 3 p.m., and Carli had been missing for almost five hours.
Jungle Friends caretakers called Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officer Ken Holmes Monday to notify him of the missing monkey.
Ladd said Bagnall slept outside Sunday night in a hammock with the hopes of hearing noises if Carli decided to return. About 10 to 15 Jungle Friends caretakers were searching for Carli Tuesday.
A few hunters in Gainesville spotted Carli from their deer stands, Bagnall said. The first hunter called and said that he photographed Carli Sunday night eating corn in a field. She was seen again twice there Monday morning.
Jungle Friends employees spent the day there searching for Carli. They even brought Andy on Tuesday so that Carli would hear him calling, but she never came.
Bagnall said she left out Carli’s favorite foods in an attempt to lure her before she left the area Tuesday night.
Bagnall texted the hunter Wednesday morning to ask if he’d spotted Carli again.
“I just couldn’t stop crying,” Bagnall said.
An hour went by. Bagnall received a call from a woman who said her husband spotted the tufted capuchin in a tree directly across from him.
Bagnall said she told the man to put his cell phone on speaker so that Carli could hear a familiar voice. She perked up and turned around when she heard Bagnall’s voice.
Bagnall brought picnic blankets and grapes to the site to attract Carli out of the trees. She came down to eat peanuts and grapes and to drink Gatorade.
But every time Bagnall tried to wrap her in a blanket, she couldn’t grab her. Holmes arrived once Bagnall alerted him because Carli started to travel up trees and escape again.
Holmes darted Carli in the thigh while Bagnall and other caretakers distracted her by calling her name. When the drugs started working, Carli dropped her hands. Then her feet. She was just hanging on by her tail.
Then she dropped. Bagnall and others stood at the bottom of the tree with a blanket stretched out to catch her.
Carli arrived back at Jungle Friends Wednesday around 1 p.m. Once the drugs wore off, Bagnall said she dropped her back off in her habitat with Andy.
Bagnall said the two have been grooming for hours now.
One mystery remains, though.
No one is sure how Carli escaped. Ladd said they looked at the metal cage-like runways that connect each of the monkey enclosures and could not identify any breaches.
The runways are made of wire and have a heavy tin roof on top. Ladd said Andy was not able to escape, and Carli did not appear to be harmed when caretakers saw her last Sunday morning.
Karen Parker, Florida Fish and Wildlife spokesperson, confirmed Wednesday afternoon that Carli has been captured and returned to her enclosure at Jungle Friends.
The man who alerted Bagnall will receive the $1,000 reward for finding Carli. Bagnall said she attributes the media coverage to Carli’s timely return.
“The moral of this story is don’t shoot a monkey in a tree,” Bagnall said. “Take the reward.”
Below: WUFT-TV’s Casey Albritton reported this story while Carli was still on the loose.