TUPELO – It was two years ago this month that Oliver made international headlines by escaping – twice – from the Buffalo Park & Zoo and running amok through west Tupelo.
While on the lam, the white-faced capuchin monkey wandered around the Tupelo Country Club and raided residents’ vegetable gardens for food. His adventure was an instant phenomenon, inspiring Web sites, T-shirts, anonymous rewards, and a David Letterman Top 10 list.
But it seems his wild days are behind him. Now the father of two young primates, Oliver leads a quiet life with his mate, Patty. Together, they dine on fruit, climb ropes and splash in the kiddie pool within the confines of a triple-locked cage.
“We have to have several locks,” said park supervisor Jesse Swinford, recalling how Oliver apparently picked his way out of the original locks that secured his cage.
The only reminders of his moment in the spotlight now are the framed Daily Journal articles hanging near his cage and a sign above it proclaiming the “World Famous Oliver.”
When asked how it feels to be famous, Oliver, who is 11, grabbed a handful of Fruit Loops and tossed them in his pool, then plucked them out to eat them one by one.
Either he doesn’t remember or no longer cares.
Not so for the hundreds of people who visit the Buffalo Park & Zoo each year to see Oliver, or for Sheila Franklin, wife of park owner Dan Franklin.
“It’s still amazing,” Sheila Franklin said. “We go out of town and wherever we go, when people find out where we’re from, they want to know about Oliver. They’re still talking about it and still associating Tupelo with Oliver.”
The monkey’s escapades, while nerve-racking for park employees, also brought international publicity to the Tupelo attraction. And its gift shop still sells T-shirts featuring the monkey and the words “Oliver’s Great Escape.”
But these days Oliver must share the limelight with his sons, 1-year-old Opie and 2-month-old Gizmo.
The two live full time with the Franklins, who share their home and their meals with the monkeys but still bottle-feed them each day. The capuchins also wear diapers, which must be changed every hour, Sheila Franklin said.
When they’re not at home, the little monkeys stay at the park’s gift shop. Opie has a cage, Gizmo is in a baby playpen.
“They’re like kids,” said gift shop employee Amanda Cofer, who cuddled Opie after the athletic primate leaped into her arms.
Cofer and Franklin said children love to see the little monkeys up close in the gift shop, to pet them and get pictures with them. The monkeys seem to enjoy the attention, too.
But some day soon, Franklin said, the pair will get too big for the gift shop. They’ll need to find a mate and build a family like their father. Oliver, though friendly with Dan Franklin, rarely socializes with humans anymore.
Unless, of course, he escapes from his cage and needs to borrow a tomato from your garden.
Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
NEMS Daily Journal