Page images
PDF
EPUB

Ch. VII.]

SPIDER-MONKEYS.

117

destructible, so that we used it in the construction of all our permanent works. White ants do not eat it, nor, excepting when first cut, and before it is barked, do any of the wood-boring beetles. It bears a round fruit about the size of an apple, hard and heavy when green, and at this time is much frequented by the large yellowish-brown spider-monkeys (Ateles), which roam over the tops of the trees in bands of from ten to twenty. Sometimes they lay quiet until I was passing underneath, and then shaking a branch of the nispera tree, they would send down a shower of the hard round fruit. Fortunately I was never struck by them. As soon as I looked up, they would commence yelping and barking, and putting on the most threatening gestures, breaking off pieces of branches and letting them fall, and shaking off more fruit, but never throwing anything, simply letting it fall. Often, when on lower trees, they would hang from the branches two or three together, holding on to each other and to the branch with their fore feet and long tail, whilst their hind feet hung down, all the time making threatening gestures and cries. Occasionally a female would be seen carrying a young one on its back, to which it clung with legs and tail, the mother making its way along the branches, and leaping from tree to tree, apparently but little encumbered with its baby. A large black and white eagle is said to prey upon them, but I never witnessed this, although I was constantly falling in with troops of the monkeys. Don Francisco Velasquez, one of our officers, told me that one day he heard a monkey crying out in the forest for more than two hours, and at last, going to see what was the matter, he saw one on a branch and an eagle beside it trying to frighten it to turn its back, when it would have seized it. The monkey, however, kept its face to its foe, and the eagle did not care to engage with it in this position, but probably would have tired it out. Velasquez fired at the eagle, and frightened it away. I think it likely from what I have seen of the habits of the spider-monkeys that they defend themselves from this peril by keeping two or three together, thus assisting each other, and that it is only when the eagle finds one separated from its companions that it dares to attack it.

Sometimes, but more rarely, we would fall in with a troop of the white-faced cebus monkey, rapidly running away, throwing themselves from tree to tree. This monkey feeds also partly on fruit, but is incessantly on the look-out for insects, examining the crevices in trees and withered leaves, seizing the largest beetles and munching them up with great relish. It is also very fond of eggs and young birds, and must play havoc amongst the nestlings. Probably owing to its carnivorous habits, its flesh is not considered so good by monkey - eaters as that of the fruit-feeding spidermonkey, but I never myself tried either. It is a very intelligent and mischievous animal. I kept one for a long time as a pet, and was much amused with its antics. At first, I had it fastened with a light chain ; but it managed to open the links and escape several times, and then made straight for the fowls' nests, breaking every egg it could get hold of. Generally, after being a day or two loose, it would allow itself to be caught again. I tried tying it up with a cord, and afterwards with a raw-hide thong, but had to nail the end, as it could loosen any knot in a few minutes. It would Ch. VII.]

: TRICKS OF A MONKEY.

119

sometimes entangle itself round a pole to which it was fastened, and then unwind the coils again with great discernment. Its chain allowed it to swing down below the verandah, but it could not reach to the ground. Sometimes, when there were broods of young ducks about, it would hold out a piece of bread in one hand, and, when it had tempted a duckling within reach, seize it by the other, and kill it with a bite in the breast. There was such an uproar amongst the fowls on these occasions, that we soon knew what was the matter, and would rush out and punish Mickey (as we called him) with a switch which ultimately cured him of his poultrykilling propensities. Once, when whipping him, I held up the dead duckling in front of him, and at each blow of the light switch told him to take hold of it, and at last, much to my surprise, he did so, taking it and holding it tremblingly in one hand. He would draw things towards him with a stick, and even use a swing for the same purpose. It had been put up for the children, and could be reached by Mickey, who now and then indulged himself with a swing on it. One day, I had put down some bird-skins on a chair to dry, far beyond, as I thought, Mickey's reach; but, fertile in expedients, he took the swing and launched it towards the chair, and actually managed to knock the skins off in the return of the swing, so as to bring them within his reach. He also procured some jelly that was set out to cool in the same way. Mickey's actions were very human-like. When any one came near to fondle him, he never neglected the opportunity of pocketpicking. He would pull out letters, and quickly take them from their envelopes. Anything eatable disappeared into his mouth immediately. Once he abstracted a small bottle of turpentine from the pocket of our medical officer. He drew the cork, held it first to one nostril then to the other, made a wry face, recorked it, and returned it to the doctor. Another time, when he got loose, he was detected carrying off the cream-jug from the table, holding it upright with both hands, and trying to move off on his hind limbs. He gave the jug up without spilling a drop, all the time making an apologetic grunting chuckle he often used when found out in any mischief, and which meant, “I know I have done wrong, but don't punish me; in fact, I did not mean to do it,-it was accidental.” Whenever, however, he saw he was going to be punished, he would change his tone to a shrill, threatening note, showing his teeth, and trying to intimidate. He had quite an extensive vocabulary of sounds, varying from a gruff bark to a shrill whistle; and we could tell by them, without seeing him, when it was he was hungry, eating, frightened, or menacing ; doubtless, one of his own species would have understood various minor shades of intonation and expression that we, not entering so fully into his feelings and wants, passed over as unintelligible. There is a third species of monkey (Mycetes palliatus), called by the natives the congo, which occasionally is heard howling in the forest; but they are not often seen, as they generally remain quiet amongst the upper branches of particular trees.

One day, when riding down this path, I came upon a pack of pisotes (Nasua fusca, Desm.), a raccoon-like animal, that ascends all the small trees, searching for birds' nests and fruits. There were not less than fifty

Ch. VII.]

CURASSOW BIRDS.

121

in the pack I saw, and nothing seemed likely to escape their search in the track they were travelling. Sometimes solitary specimens of the pisoti are met with, hunting alone in the forest. I once saw one near Juigalpa, ascending tree after tree, and climbing every branch, apparently in search of birds' nests. They are very fond of eggs; and the tame ones, which are often kept as pets, play havoc amongst the poultry when they got loose. They are about the size of a hare, with a taper snout, strong tusks, a thick hairy coat, and bushy tail. When passing down this road, I at times saw the fine curl-crested curassow (Crax globicera), as large as a turkey, jet black, excepting underneath. This kind would always take to the trees, and was easy to shoot, and as good eating as it was noble in appearance. The female is a very different-looking bird from the male, being of a fine brown colour. Dr. Sclater, in a paper read before the Zoological Society of London. June 17th, 1873, stated that in the South and Central American species of Crax there is a complete gradation from a species in which the sexes scarcely differ, through others in which they differ more and more, until in Crax globicera they are quite distinctly coloured, and have been described as different species. The natives call them “ pavónes," and often keep them tame; but I never heard of them breeding in confinement. Another fine game bird is a species of Penelope, called by the natives " pávos.” It feeds on the fruits of trees, and I neper saw it on the ground. A similar, but much smaller, bird, called “chachalakes,” is often met with in the low scrub.

Mountain hens (species of T'inamus) were not un

« EelmineJätka »