Hoax launches hunt for monkey in downtown Charlottetown

P.E.I. social media accounts were abuzz Monday morning with images of a monkey roaming through downtown Charlottetown, but police say it was a hoax.

‘There was an electric energy in Charlottetown’

Gabriel White, right, and friend Ian Solomon were out the door quickly, bananas in hand, in the hopes of finding the monkey. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

P.E.I. social media accounts were abuzz Monday morning with images of a monkey roaming through downtown Charlottetown, but police say it was a hoax.

A local company later apologized, saying it had intended to warn police and the Humane Society about a marketing promotion involving doctored images of Charlottetown, but word about the apparent sightings spread too quickly.

Early in the morning, social media posts showed what seemed to be a monkey trotting past the ticket booth of the parking lot behind the Polyclinic on Grafton Street.

There was also a video showing an animal perched in a dead tree outside the Veterans Affairs Canada headquarters in downtown Charlottetown.

But as one commenter pointed out, there are no dead trees outside the Veterans Affairs Canada headquarters.

After P.E.I. Humane Society reps and police officers spent a short while combing the area, police talked to one of the people posting the pictures.

A video posted online seems to show the monkey sitting in a dead tree near the Veterans Affairs Canada building ... but there is no dead tree at that spot. (Danny Arsenault/CBC)

"Confirmed with Charlottetown Police there is no monkey loose in Charlottetown," CBC reporter Steve Bruce tweeted midmorning. "It was a prank that fooled a lot of people, including animal protection officers. It also increased banana sales in the downtown."

Police described the affair as a publicity stunt. They did not say whether the local business involved would be charged.

"It blew up way faster than we ever expected," said the company. "Within 20 minutes, we contacted the city police and Humane Society dispatchers to ensure them that no animal was at risk. Dispatch informed us that we would have to wait until the local office opened at 10:30 to talk to anyone, which was an unfortunate oversight on our part. So obviously, this thing got a little out of our hands and we are very sorry for anyone that found themselves feeling worried about the little guy.

"We definitely owe a sincere apology to animal protection officers and police dispatchers who had to field calls about fake monkeys, as well as anyone else that found themselves roaming around with bananas trying to help track down the monkey."

Gabriel White said he was out the door quickly when he saw the pictures.

"I grabbed bananas and a bottle of water. We hopped on our bicycles and skateboards, and we came down Grafton Street immediately.  And we've been looking for the monkey for about 10 minutes now," said White, before learning that the pictures on social media were faked.

"I'm just trying to think like a monkey. If I was a monkey in the downtown Charlottetown core, where would I go?"

Stunts like this tie up scarce resources at the P.E.I. Humane Society, said Mike Gilbertson. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

CBC News was able to find White again after learning about the hoax.

"I just feel a bit betrayed. I really thought there was a monkey in Charlottetown," he said.

"I was very happy for an hour.  And there was an electric energy in Charlottetown."

The P.E.I. Humane Society sent animal protection officers to the downtown to search for the fictitious primate.

"It tied up two of our officers for over an hour. That did mean we can't be doing our normal job, and it did delay an animal coming back from the vet college to the Humane Society," said Mike Gilbertson, lead animal protection officer with the P.E.I. Humane Society.

"I appreciate the humour of it in some sense. But it does tie up our resources.  So, we'd recommend people not do things like that in the future. If they could avoid it, that'd be great."

During the rush of attention Monday morning, several people gathered in the area around Province House to see if they could spot the "monkey," and others circled the zone with bananas looking for it.

According to the provincial government web page, primates may not be kept as pets on Prince Edward Island.

More from CBC P.E.I.


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