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‘Do not touch the monkey’: Mystery primate on the loose in U.S. town

A suspected primate is shown in the woods in Tewksbury, Mass., on May 20, 2020. Via Shawsheen Animal Hospital/Facebook

A Bigfoot-style photo of a suspected monkey in the woods near Tewksbury, Mass., has locals on edge and officials wondering how it got loose in the first place.

Local vets and police are recommending that citizens avoid the mystery primate, which still had not been captured as of Thursday morning.

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“If you see this animal call the Tewksbury Police immediately!” the Shawsheen Animal Hospital wrote on its Facebook page on Wednesday. “DO NOT touch the monkey!! Monkeys can be dangerous and can carry herpes B virus.”

Police say they were called to the woods near the animal hospital on Wednesday for a report of “what appeared to be a monkey in the tree line” behind someone’s house. Officers searched the area with drones and ATVs but failed to find the animal, Tewksbury police said in a statement.

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A photo of the creature shows a smallish, dark shape with long arms. However, police and staff at the animal hospital are not certain about the creature’s identity.

“It’s definitely not a dog. It’s not a cat. It doesn’t look like a bear,” the animal hospital’s Dr. Michele Caruso told CBS Boston.

Local resident Diane Charlton says she first spotted the animal while out for a morning walk on Tuesday.

“We saw a monkey, just sitting,” Charlton told NBC 10. “I froze. I wanted to take a picture so bad.”

Charlton says she managed to capture one photo of the animal before it ran away.

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Charlton’s son, Justin, says he saw the monkey again in the family’s backyard on Wednesday morning.

“I got scared,” he told NBC 10. “He got scared. He ran off, I ran off.”

Caruso says the animal hospital has not lost any monkeys, so it was shocking to hear about one on the loose in a town of about 29,000 people.

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“(There are) no monkeys here in the wild, and they’re not legal to have as pets in Massachusetts,” she told NBC 10 in an interview.

She also urged calm, despite the hospital’s alarming message on Facebook.

“There’s wild animals that are always around us — coyotes, bears, bobcats,” Caruso said. “I don’t think one monkey potentially on the loose should cause any concern to anybody. I’m more concerned for the well-being of the monkey than a human.”

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Tewksbury Animal Control has set up traps around the Charltons’ home to try to capture the animal. They’ve also set up cameras in hopes of getting a closer look at the creature.

One pop culture-loving Twitter user compared the incident to the beginning of Planet of the Apes, the science fiction film franchise in which apes take over the world after a pandemic nearly wipes out humanity.

But there’s likely no need to worry — the world has taken unprecedented steps to stop the spread of COVID-19, and monkeys are primates, not apes.

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