- The Washington Times - Monday, July 3, 2006

Oops, messed up.

A 20-pound female Japanese macaque monkey named Oops escaped from the Mill Mountain Zoo in Roanoke early Sunday, and animal-control officers were still searching for the 11-year-old runaway yesterday.

Zoo officials said they were hoping that Oops was hiding somewhere in a forest near the zoo, where she was born.

“This is her home. She’s never been outside the exhibit,” said Michaela Pace-Wilson, Mill Mountain Zoo’s administration manager. “We are hoping that she didn’t venture too far from home.”

Mrs. Pace-Wilson declined to confirm a report that the “snow monkey” escaped while it was being moved to its exhibit. She said the zoo would investigate how the macaque got away after it is located.

The escape marked the first time in the zoo’s 55-year history that an animal has traversed beyond the zoo’s walls.

But it wasn’t the first time Oops surprised zoo officials. Her conception and birth were not supposed to have happened, either.

“The birth control for the mother failed,” said Laurie Spangler, the zoo’s conservation coordinator and acting curator.

Officials suspect that Oops is frightened by her new surroundings and will soon decide to return.

She is a wild animal, so anyone who sees the monkey should contact authorities instead of trying to handle the animal themselves.

“She’s not used to human interaction,” Mrs. Pace-Wilson said. “She will bite or scratch if provoked or frightened.”

The forest near the zoo isn’t a hostile environment for a Japanese macaque. There are no natural predators in the area, the climate is fine, and the monkey should be able to find water, Mrs. Pace-Wilson said.

Japanese macaques are one of the northernmost species of monkeys in the world, Ms. Spangler said. They are native to northern Japan and are often called snow monkeys because they survive in harsh conditions.

“They can live in the snow,” Ms. Spangler said. “They have that wonderful fur that keeps them warm.”

Snow monkeys live in troops and are mostly herbivores, although they occasionally will kill and eat a bird or small lizard. They have red, hairless faces.

“I’m surprised that she hasn’t come back,” Ms. Spangler said. “But she’s scared.”

Oops has been known to react visibly to visitors, especially children who get close to her glass enclosure.

“She’s a pretty energetic little monkey when she’s on exhibit,” Ms. Spangler said. “She is a really vocal monkey.”

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