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Monkeys on loose in wake of Andrew

MIAMI -- Hundreds of monkeys escaped from facilities damaged by Hurricane Andrew, but the animals posed no danger to the public unless people tried to capture them, a University of Miami researcher said Wednesday.

'I don't think the numbers are important. It could be 300 to 1,000 in South Florida. The whole place is devastated,' said Dr. Joseph Wagner, director of the university's Division of Veterinary Resources.

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However, a veterinarian at the laboratory later said most of the facility's approximately 300 rhesus and synomologus monkeys had returned and had been caught, leaving between 50 to 100 still loose. He did not know how many from other facilities still were at large.

Wagner said the monkeys were not being used in research but escaped from breeding colonies housed in various structures damaged or destroyed by the storm. He said some of the monkeys were housed at the university and others escaped from various facilities in South Florida.

'None of these animals is being used in research,' he said. 'They do not have AIDS, they do not have rabies, they do not have any other disease people could be concerned with.'

He said he'd received reports of people shooting at the monkeys, trying to kill them.

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'We've had reports that people are shooting these animals. We request that that stop immediately,' he said. 'It's not necessary at all.'

He said people if possible should leave food and water for the animals but above all should leave them alone.

'Tell the public not to try to catch or handle the monkeys, or they will be bitten because they are a wild animal,' he said. 'If they would be kind enough to provide a source of water, it doesn't have to be their drinking water, and some food, we would appreciate it.'

Wagner said rounding up the monkeys would be difficult.

'It's probably going to take, who knows, probably up to a month to recover them,' he said.

Metro-Dade County police spokesman Ralph Fernandez said anyone seeing monkeys on the loose should call police so they can pick up the animals.

Police also reported the escape of two or three baboons from the Metrozoo in south Dade County in the middle of the disaster zone. The baboons were sighted on the grounds of the federal Metro Correctional Institution.

Fernandez said marshals at the federal prison apparently were trying to handle the situation.

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Prisoners had been taken out of the facility, but their new location was not being disclosed.

Among the prisoners who had been housed at the facility is deposed Panamanian Dictator Manuel Noriega, who was convicted of cocaine trafficking.

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