Jamie Labar was working at the front desk at a Super 8 hotel in Montour County, Pennsylvania, on Friday when she heard that there had been a crash on the highway nearby.
“I thought it was just another car accident because there’s always accidents there,” she said.
But it was not just another accident. The Pennsylvania State Police said that a pickup truck with an enclosed trailer full of 100 monkeys had collided with a dump truck and that four of the monkeys had escaped.
The cynomolgus monkeys, which are often used in scientific research and can cost up to $10,000 each, had been on their way to a lab in Florida when the crash happened about 3:20 p.m. on Route 54 near Interstate 80 in Montour County, about 150 miles northwest of Philadelphia, state police said.
No people were hurt, but troopers and state wildlife officials responded as the search for the monkeys intensified into the evening hours. A state police helicopter was also put on standby but had not been deployed for aerial reconnaissance, said Trooper Lauren Lesher, a state police spokesperson.
As night fell, two of the monkeys had been “contained,” meaning they had been located, but authorities were still working to capture them, Lesher said. The other two monkeys remained on the loose, she said.
“We are bringing out animal specialists so there are people who can safely capture them and tranquilize them, if needed,” Lesher said.
Cynomolgus monkeys were in such high demand for coronavirus vaccine research at the beginning of the pandemic that some scientists were talking about the need to create a strategic monkey reserve, an emergency stockpile similar to those maintained by the U.S. government for oil and grain.
With their reddish-brown coats and pink, whiskered faces, the monkeys, also known as crab-eating or long-tailed macaques, are known for using their hands to grab food from burrows and can live up to 30 years in captivity, according to the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center.
Labar said that when her friend told her that monkeys had escaped after the crash, she assumed it was a joke. Then she began to worry, she said, at the thought of the monkeys scampering in traffic and trying to stay warm.
Temperatures in Montour County were expected to plunge to near zero Friday night.
“I hope somebody gets them out of the cold, whoever it is,” Labar said. Maybe, she said, that someone could be her.
“I want one,” Labar said. “They are adorable.”