The owners of a cotton-top tamarin, a rare primate, are in the third day of a search to find the missing animal that escaped from them at a Morrisville hotel.
Willow, a squirrel-sized monkey that weighs about a pound, faces many risks — including hawks, heavy traffic near the Raleigh-Durham International Airport and an unfamiliar environment. But the biggest risk for the tiny tamarin might be this weekend’s freezing temperatures.
Temperatures could dip into the mid-20s by Sunday morning, ABC11 meteorologists predict.
Owner Ann Smith and her husband were bringing Willow and another primate, a marmoset named Mikki, to the Triangle for the animals’ annual checkup Thursday afternoon when a plane from RDU flew overhead. The sound frightened Willow, who took off “like a bolt of lightning” across the parking lot of their hotel, a La Quinta at 1001 Hospitality Court, Smith said in a phone interview Saturday.
“It’s like losing a child,” Smith said of Willow’s disappearance.
Willow is almost a year old, with a large white crest above her black face. She also has white on her arms, legs and underbelly. She might still be wearing a white diaper, but Smith says Willow likes to pull the diaper off.
Willow can sing, and “sounds like a bird,” Smith said. She might climb a tree while the sun is out and could burrow into nest-like quarters at night to sleep.
Smith says Willow doesn’t bite and isn’t a danger to humans, but does run — fast — especially when people are trying to catch her. If someone spots Willow, they should call 864-979-8446 and Smith will show up with an animal carrier, which would offer Willow some familiar comfort.
Mikki the marmoset “misses (Willow) so much” and has been crying at night, Smith said.
Smith said she plans to stay in the Triangle all weekend or until Willow is located, while multiple search parties of roughly 10 to 15 people at a time fan out through the area.
“(We’re) so thankful for ‘em,” Smith said about the volunteer searchers. “’Monkey people’ parents stick together.”
Smith said the hotel staff and others in the community have been helpful with the search. Some of the pilots staying at the hotel have joined search parties, as well as a couple of police officers who were driving by at the time.
The search has expanded online, including lost-pet message boards and Facebook posts.
Tamarin monkeys, which come from tropical locations in South America, eat fruit such as bananas and grapes, Smith said. But they’re not suited well to the cold, which will be a problem this weekend in North Carolina.
The National Weather Service has issued the season’s first freeze warning for the Triangle, starting Saturday night.
Smith said she was bringing both of her primates to the Triangle because there aren’t many services for exotic animals in her Easley, S.C., hometown. She also had primates as pets as a child, including a squirrel monkey and a spider monkey.
There is a $1,000 reward, Smith said.