Although he was the most widely quoted source in monkey reportage of the time, Kimball downplayed his role when I reached him at the Danville home where he and his wife still reside. He even claims he never reported his monkey sighting to anyone. After seeing the monkey — which darted in front of his truck, and then quickly jumped back into the bushes — Kimball went to the town library to determine what he had seen. It matched the description of a Humboldt's woolly monkey, he says, "and that satisfied my curiosity."
ON THE PROWL
According to Kimball, it was the librarian who spread the word. However it travelled, that word quickly reached Danville's animal-control officer, Denise Laratondo. (Laratondo still lives in the area, but I was not successful in reaching her.)
Laratondo took up the cause of the monkey. She was also the one, I am told, who launched the media offensive, in hopes of prompting more sightings. She also wanted to persuade the monkey's owner (presumably the creature had escaped the home of someone keeping it illegally) to come forward, by promising not to pursue charges.
Laratondo also happened to know — in one of the unlikeliest twists in this story — that Danville had in its midst a woman with extensive experience dealing with dislocated Humboldt's woolly monkeys.
Julia Ashmun, a systems analyst and software developer, had been part of a group in Florida, back in the 1970s, trying to train Humboldt's woolly monkeys left abandoned when the state outlawed them. Ashmun, who still lives in Danville but now works at Harvard, became a key part of the search team.
At first, that search included cameras and cage traps set up where the monkey had recently been spotted. The monkey proved too mobile and elusive for that.
Instead, they would need to bait the monkey and lie in wait for it, shooting it with a tranquilizer when it appeared. They mostly used bananas, Ashmun says, but Laratondo and her crew also, at various times, tried oranges, popcorn, Reese's peanut-butter cups, and marshmallows dipped in molasses.
They were thwarted by at least two obstacles. For one, the monkey had apparently discovered the Apple Basket orchard just north of the Danville Town Forest — an all-you-can-eat monkey cafeteria that time of year, mooting the appeal of the search party's offerings.
The other problem was Donnie White, overnight DJ and promotions manager at WHOB radio in Nashua.
By October, White was regularly donning a gorilla suit and traipsing about the area of the most recent sighting, making a lot of noise and calling into the station to update listeners on his progress tracking down the monkey. "He kept showing up where we were baiting," says Ashmun, almost certainly scaring the monkey away.
Those who believe in monkey karma will be glad to know that White's career at WHOB did not last the winter. According to reports, he left the station in February 2002, after allegedly getting caught posting photographs of himself on the Web, sans gorilla suit — or any other clothing.
The team made one last stakeout in late November. By that time American Marines and Special Forces were landing in Afghanistan, following seven weeks of air assault. That same weekend, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld met with General Tommy Franks to begin planning and justifying an invasion of Iraq.