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Days later, a rare tiny pet monkey remains missing in Morrisville

Missing cotton top tamarin Willow rides with Ann Smith and her husband on their way to the Triangle on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018. The endangered monkey was last seen wearing a solid white diaper.
Missing cotton top tamarin Willow rides with Ann Smith and her husband on their way to the Triangle on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018. The endangered monkey was last seen wearing a solid white diaper. Courtesy of Ann Smith

The owners of a cotton-top tamarin, a rare primate, are continuing the search to find the missing animal that escaped from them at a Morrisville hotel and are increasing the reward from $1,000 to $5,000.

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 cold temperatures.

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, Nov. 8, 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, Nov. 10.

“It’s like losing a child,” Smith said of Willow’s disappearance.

If you are able to find Willow, please take her to a vet’s office, Smith said in an email Thursday, and call 864-979-8446. She’ll pay the reward “no questions asked” once she can verify that Willow is safe.

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.

Mikki the marmoset “misses (Willow) so much” and has been crying at night, Smith said.

Smith spent extra nights in the Triangle while multiple search parties of roughly 10 to 15 people at a time fanned 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.

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.

Beaufort resident Betty Austin Owen captured some wonderful video of Rhesus monkeys on Morgan Island. Including video of a baby monkey clinging to an adult’s underside. The island, owned and managed by the South Carolina Department of Natural Reso



Andrew Roman has been an editor, a copy editor, a designer and a producer for The News & Observer and The Herald-Sun. He currently is part of a regional audience growth team for McClatchy publications in the Carolinas and has decades of journalism experience in four different states. Reach him at aroman@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4812.
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