JACKSON — Stacey Murphy was in her kitchen Friday morning when she glanced through the glass back door and caught a glimpse of two brown furry legs on the welcome mat.
She assumed it was her neighbor’s dog — until she spotted the animal’s bulbous red butt.
“I saw the infamous red hiney and I yelled, ‘Oh my God, there’s a baboon on the patio!’ ” said Murphy, 42, of Buttonwood Drive in Jackson Township.
Over the next few hours, more than a dozen residents of the leafy Ocean County neighborhood reported seeing a baboon bounding down streets, lounging in trees near Route 195 and ambling around an exclusive private golf course.
As of Friday night, the elusive baboon remained on the lam in neighboring Freehold, in Monmouth County. The search is due to resume Saturday morning.
Animal experts from Six Flags Great Adventure — who assume the primate is an escapee from the Monkey Jungle exhibit in their Wild Safari park — came close to capturing the baboon around 3:45 p.m. in Jackson.
A member of the search team shot a tranquilizer dart at the two- or three-foot animal near Metedeconk National Golf Club, Great Adventure officials said. But the dart missed.
“The animal took off into the woods,” Jackson Police Sgt. Edward Bennett said. “I saw it. It’s quick, very fast.”
The baboon, which appears to be a 2-year-old male, should instinctively want to return to familiar surroundings and other baboons, according to animal experts. However, the adolescent appeared to be moving further and further away from Great Adventure. It traveled more than 10 miles Friday.
“I imagine it’s trying to get back. But it’s going the wrong way,” Bennett said.
Great Adventure, the sprawling amusement park with a 350-acre drive-thru safari, first reported a possible baboon escape to state officials Thursday after two residents reported seeing a primate on neighboring streets.
However, Great Adventure could not say for sure if animal was one of their approximately 1,200 exotic animals. About 150 baboons roam free and breed inside a chain link fence in the wildlife safari. The state does not require the park to keep an exact count of how many primates it has on a given day.
All of the baboons are vaccinated and have a microchip embedded beneath their skin, said Kristin Siebeneicher, a Great Adventure spokeswoman. If the runaway baboon is found, the presence of a microchip will confirm it belongs to Great Adventure.
“This young male is probably very scared and looking for a way to get back to where he came from,” Siebeneicher said.
The alleged breakout inspired several Facebook pages and a Twitter page (@JerseyBaboon) with hundreds of followers where the baboon comically chronicled dodging police to head to the Jersey Shore to party with Snooki for the holiday weekend.
“I mean Six Flags is cool and all. But I’m ready for a vacation. Let’s do this,” read one of JerseyBaboon’s Twitter posts.
Lynn Martin, 24, of Jackson, was in her backyard with her twin 2-year-old daughters and 3-year-old son when she spotted the baboon about 30 feet away. She whisked her children inside, then ran out with her camera. But the animal disappeared.
Martin was upset Great Adventure had not warned residents of her street, Winterberry Boulevard, and the neighborhood bordering the wildlife park of a possible escaped animal.
“They need to let everyone know, give us a warning so we can keep our kids safe,” Martin said.
Great Adventure officials said their animals are kept behind two or three levels of fencing, including some electrified fences. The park’s only animal escape was about 10 years ago when an African antelope slipped out when someone deliberately cut a fence, a park spokeswoman said.
Inspectors from the state Department of Environmental Protection visit Great Adventure several times a year to inspect the enclosures, department spokesman Lawrence Ragonese said.
“We really haven’t had any problems with them,” Ragonese said. “They’ve been really good neighbors.”
For many in Jackson, the baboon incident was reminiscent of a 1999 escape of a Bengal tiger that made national headlines. The 431-pound cat was shot and killed after it was spotted on residential streets.
The tiger was traced to the Tigers Only Preservation Society, a Jackson preserve owned by “Tiger Lady” Joan Byron-Marasek. Tigers Only eventually lost its state permit and its tigers were moved to a Texas facility.
Longtime Jackson resident George Paramithis shrugged when asked about the chance of two wild animals wandering around town.
“You live here 15 years, it’s the law of averages this will happen once or twice,” said Paramithis, 50.