TOKYO – Japan's most-wanted fugitive has been eluding police for nearly a month. He slips urban dragnets. He runs through crowded train stations, shocking commuters. He even urinates in public.
That may not be too surprising — since the culprit is a wild monkey.
The cheeky, red-faced primate has been giving Tokyo authorities a headache since it showed up on city streets a few weeks ago, repeatedly eluding capture by net-wielding police.
"This monkey is driving us crazy," said Tadayoshi Toyama, police official in the Tokyo neighborhood of Kanda, where the monkey was seen last weekend. "It's so agile, and we only have dignets."
The primate — a Japanese macaque — first leapt to the national stage in August. It showed up in Tokyo's Shibuya station and gazed down at the crowd from atop a schedule board before deftly escaping dozens of police and dashing to a park.
Since then, the monkey — which some authorities suspect hitched a train ride from nearby mountains into the city — has been sighted repeatedly around Tokyo. But the animal always manages to slip away before police can catch it.
The monkey has not hurt anyone so far, and Tokyoites have been delighted rather than alarmed by its appearances. At Shibuya, scores of commuters and high-schoolers snapped photos of the animal with their cell-phones.
But for the police, chasing the monkey has been time-consuming work.
Each sighting forces net-wielding police to rush to the scene. Police had to mobilize 10 times over the last weekend alone, but without success.
On Monday, the monkey was seen sitting in front of a fruit shop staring at the bananas, but was apparently shooed away before snatching its breakfast, Toyama said.
It was later spotted outside a nearby restaurant, then on a powerline, looking down the policemen who arrived at the scene after someone called in the tip.
"Then the monkey urinated to the ground," said Toyama. "What a troublemaker. We have to catch him as soon as possible."
The monkey has not injured anyone or taken store merchandise, and it's so stealthy that authorities haven't even gotten a good enough look to determine whether it's male or female.
Yoshiaki Sagawa, an official at Tokyo's Ueno Zoo, said odds are the monkey is not a runaway pet because it's not tamed.
"It's probably a country monkey that has gotten lost from the troop and ended up in the city. Male monkeys sometimes act independently, and that's what might have happened," Sagawa said.
The monkey is probably living on rainwater, leaves and berries on trees in the park, or from someone's yard, he said.
Monkeys are common in rural Japan where they have often damage crops, and have been known to bite humans. A rise in the monkey population in recent years has led to more of them foraging beyond forests into farms and towns.