The Japanese macaque vanished from the Highland Wildlife Park on Sunday, following in the footsteps of another similarly liberty-minded snow monkey which escaped the same tourist attraction in 2008.
He has since been spotted by awed locals who live near the park at Kingussie, with one resident of Kincraig describing it as a “once in a lifetime” experience to see the monkey in their garden – as opposed to the enclosure he typically shares with 33 other macaques.
But with weather warnings in force on Wednesday, as forecasters warned of 85mph winds brought by Storm Ingunn as it powers towards Norway, the search for the missing macaque continued, as drone sightings raised hopes the fugitive primate could be on his way back to the park.
Keepers were able to follow the macaque – now being dubbed “Kingussie Kong” – for 45 minutes on Tuesday using drones, which showed him roaming underneath trees and sitting in undergrowth.
“Unfortunately, he wasn’t in a position where we were confident we could bring him in safely but he is making his way closer to the park,” said Keith Gilchrist, living collections operations manager at Highland Wildlife Park.
“Our team will be out again today but given the high winds we won’t be able to fly the drones but will be using thermal imaging cameras. We’re continuing to ask locals to please bring any obvious potential food sources like bird feeders or food waste inside.”
In the drone footage, the monkey was only around 300 metres north of the entry to the park, which has successfully bred Japanese macaques. Also known as snow monkeys, they are the most northerly living non-human primate, according to the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland.
One couple who saw the monkey in their back garden at the weekend described the experience as “so surreal”.
Carl Nagle, 49, and his partner, Tiina Salzberg, 50, saw the monkey from their patio doors in Kincraig near Kingussie on Sunday morning, as it nibbled on the nuts in ther bird feeder and perched on their garden fence for around 15 minutes.
Ms Salzberg said: “We were watching in awe as it’s so displaced to see a Japanese snow monkey in your garden in a village in the middle of nowhere. It was absolutely wild, we were both elbowing each other trying to get the other one out of the way so we could get the best video and camera angles.
“It was incredible, I’m sure once in a lifetime.”
Additional reporting by PA