At least two people in a southern Texas city have reported seeing a primate on the loose, and while police and animal control officials have not been able to verify that an animal is indeed roaming Santa Fe, Texas, they are taking the claims seriously.
"We are not saying that there isn’t a primate on the loose, in fact, there probably is one," Lt. Greg Boody said in an email Tuesday night. "Out here you never know what you will come across. We just haven't been able to substantiate anything."
Police in Santa Fe, a town of around 12,000 around 25 miles south of downtown Houston, said it received a call of a "possible loose primate" just before 3 p.m. Monday, but officers were unable to find any animal or any evidence to support a loose primate.
Then came another call of a possible sighting just after 10 a.m. Tuesday.
"Officers, along with representatives with Bayou Animal Services, checked the area again for approximately an hour and a half and again were not able to locate a primate in the area," Boody said in a statement posted online Tuesday.
Boody wrote in his email Tuesday night that no one has contacted police to report any kind of attack.
He said that Santa Fe is a rural area and it's possible that a primate could have escaped from its owner.
Sarah Haywood of Bayou Animal Services told NBC affiliate KPRC of Houston that crews have been searching for the animal without any luck.
"This may be a hoax of the century, but we are taking it seriously," Haywood told the station.
Bayou Animal Control said on Facebook on Tuesday that it does not know the type of monkey, has "not set eyes on the monkey" and has not been unable to contact the people claiming to have encountered it on social media.
"Please understand we are working on the situation with a team of experts," Bayou Animal Control said.
It urged people that if a primate is seen, do not try and approach the animal. It also asked that if anyone sees the animal, they should take a picture so that officials can verify what kind of animal it is.
"Knowing the type will keep this monkey safe if it needs to be tranquilized," the animal control group said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says on its website that monkeys and other "nonhuman primates" cannot be imported to the U.S. as pets under any circumstances, and that importation for other purposes is strictly controlled.
The reason for those restrictions is that monkeys and primates can spread severe infections to humans, including yellow fever, tuberculosis, and monkeypox — which in humans is similar to smallpox, the CDC says.
Federal law since 1975 has restricted the importation of nonhuman primates, and importers must register with the CDC and implement disease control measures, among other regulations, the health agency says.