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SOME CLEVER MONKEYS"
By Thomas Belt
jS^N the dryer ridges near the Artigua River, a valuable timber tree, the "nispera," as it is called by the native, is common. It grows to a great size, and its timber is almost indestructible; 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 yellowishbrown spider-monkey, which roams over the tops of the trees in bands of from ten to twenty. Sometimes they lay quiet until I was passing underneath, when, shaking a branch of the nispera tree, they would send down a shower of the hard round fruit; but 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
* This selection is taken from The Naturalist in Nicaragua.
tail, whilst their hind feet hung down, all the time making threatening gestures and cries.
Sometimes 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 saw one, 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 out to see what was the matter, he saw a monkey 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 this monkey, that they defend themselves from its attack 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, a troop of the whitefaced cebus monkey would be fallen in with, 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 the greatest relish. It is also very fond of eggs and young birds, and must play havoc among the nestlings. Probably owing to its carnivorous habits, its flesh is not considered so good by monkey eaters as that of the fruit-feeding sj>ider-monkey.
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 rawhide thong, but had to nail the end, as it could loosen any knot in a few minutes. It would sometimes entangle itself around a pole to which it was fastened, and then unwind the coils again with the greatest discernment. Its chain allowed it to swing down below the verandah, but it could not reach to the ground.
Sometimes, when there was a brood 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; so that he was ultimately cured of his poultry-killing propensities. One day, 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 pocket-picking. 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.
One day, 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 chuckle he often used when found out in any mischief, and which always 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 into his feelings and wants, passed over as unintelligible.