Popular Science Monthly/Volume 32/January 1888/The Monkeys of Dutch Guiana

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THERE are eight species of apes in Dutch Guiana. The most conspicuous of them is the howling ape (Mycetes seniculus), which is also one of the best-known and largest of the race. It is called a baboon in the colony alouatte by the Caribs, and itoli by the Arowaks. When standing up it is about three feet high, and weighs about twenty pounds. It lives in both the coast-regions and the interior, and eats fruits, leaves, and buds. Its big, scantily-haired belly, the thick, tawny skin of its back, passing into a purple-brown at the back of the head and the feet; its black face, with its strong set of teeth, and the prominence under its neck, covered with a long yellow beard, altogether make it one of the ugliest apes of tropical America. It lives in small troops of rarely more than twelve individuals, among which is always to be found an old, full-grown male, which takes a higher place on the tree than the others, and leads the lugubrious concert by which these apes are so broadly distinguished from other species. The windpipe of the male is much stronger and more complicated than that of any of the other apes, and is connected with a vocal apparatus composed of bone-substance of about the size of a goose-egg, which is set in the hollow of the under jaw. It looks from without like a wen, and acts as a sounding-board to strengthen the voice to an almost incredible extent. The females have a similar apparatus, but only about an inch in size. I do not know what it is that prompts the animal to set up its great cry. It is believed in the colony that it cries out only when the flood-tide begins, but this is wrong, for these apes howl at all times of day, and quite as much in the interior of the country, where there can be no tide. There may be some atmospheric influence which provokes the males to howl, while the females join in with them. There can not be a sexual impulse in the matter, for that would not make old and young howl together. I have had opportunities to hear this howling a great many times, and to observe the howlers from a very close vicinity. Every time, there sat an old male up in a tree, supporting himself on his fore-feet, and having his long tail, naked of hair on the inside for about nine inches from the end, black and smooth as a hand, wrapped around a limb, while other males, females, and young sat beneath him in a variety of positions. All at once the old fellow would set up a horrible rattling "Rochu, rochu!" which, after five or six repetitions, passed into a bellowing in which all the others would join, and which was loud enough to make one afraid of losing his hearing. It is so loud that it can be heard on still nights two leagues off; and it lasts for about ten minutes, and then subsides. The roar of the tigers, which troubled Pichegru and his companions so much on their flight from Cayenne to Surinam, was evidently nothing else than the howling of these apes, which might well fill one, hearing it for the first time, and not knowing that it came from harmless monkeys, with fright. The howling ape is sluggish and melancholy, and jumps only when it is pursued, while at other times it climbs deliberately among the trees, always holding itself by the tail. When captured young it becomes tame and confiding, and will play with cats and dogs, but is usually quiet, and if the person to whom it is attached goes away, it indulges in a continual rattling and highly unpleasant cry.

I could never succeed in raising one of them. They have a peculiarly unpleasant odor, by which one can easily tell when he is near one. Like all the apes, they bring only one young into the world at a time. Their principal enemy is the tufted eagle (Falco destructor).

The quatta (Ateles panisciis) is as large as the howling ape, but slimmer and not so slow. It does not appear on the coast, but only in the higher lands, where it constitutes a choice game for the bush negroes. Its head, body, tail, and feet are clothed in bright black hairs, while its nearly bare, narrow, ruddy face is very like that of an old Indian woman. The tail, about three feet long, is, like the tail of the alouatte, bare on the under side for about nine inches. The tip of the tail is also the animal's most delicate organ of feeling, and commonly answers to it the purpose of a hand. Wherever the monkey goes or climbs, that member is its support and its aid in climbing. If these apes are observed climbing, it is hard to tell what is tail and what foot; and they have been very aptly called spider-apes, because when they are hanging in the limbs they look like a big spider. They become very tame, but are much less lively and charming than the capuchin apes. They live on plants alone, and eat buds very readily, but never insects. While of the howling apes mostly males are shot, among the quattas the females appear to be more numerous. Their tails being tightly wrapped around the limbs, they do not fall from the trees when shot, but hang to them, sometimes till putrefaction sets in. For this reason the Indians of the interior shoot them with arrows that have been poisoned with the uoura, the effect of which is to relax or paralyze the muscles, and insure a speedy fall of the animal.

The most docile of all the apes of Guiana, and the one that is most frequently taken to Europe, is the capuchin ape (Cebus appella). It is called kesi-kesi in Surinam, macaque in Cayenne, meku by the Caribs, and pfuiti by the Arowaks. It appears in pairs, or in troops of not more than thirty individuals, among whom are always some old males, with hair standing out from their foreheads, as if the animals had little horns. Their color is a dark olive-brown, a little lighter in the face. Their hands, feet, and hairy, winding tail are nearly black. They are about the size of a cat. They are very shy, and take quickly to flight whenever they perceive anything wrong. They have a peculiar flute-like call and whimper, which the Indians, having learned to imitate very deceptively, make a means of decoying them to be shot. They can often be heard in the woods, beating down nuts or conversing with one another. They live on fruit, birds' eggs, and perhaps young birds, too, but do not eat leaves or insects. If caught young they soon become tame, are very interesting, and attach themselves to those who treat them well, with a patient affection which they manifest by caresses and tears. They are very fond of tobacco-smoke, and take great delight in rubbing their bodies with "the weed." There are several varieties of the capuchin ape. A light-colored, very docile kind (Cebus fatuellus) is more abundant in the interior of the country. There are more males than females in this species.

The Pitheea Satanas, a handsome ape, living only in the mountainous interior, resembles the former species in figure, but is somewhat smaller, and has a bushy tail which hangs straight down. The Indians call it hiu. It is rare, and I only knew of one specimen that lived for a few years in a tamed condition. Its back is yellowish brown, its face black, and its head, feet, and tail dark brown. It lives in small families of five or six individuals, and is not very active or hard to catch. I had a young female on the Maroni, but it soon died. I also had a male that had been shot and had recovered, but it never became tame, and died on board the vessel that was taking it to Amsterdam. The remarkable feature of this ape is its beautiful hair and beard. The dense head-hair of the male is divided in the middle of the forehead into a thick beard about two inches long, running down the cheeks and under the chin from one ear to the other. No beau could keep his beard and hair in better order than this handsome animal.

The prettiest of the apes of Surinam is the squirrel-ape (Chrysobryx sciurea). It is called the monkey in the colony, sapajou in Cayenne, akalima by the Caribs, and cabreanama by the Arowaks. I kept three of these little monkeys at a time for twenty-six years; and as soon as one died, I took care that another should come in its place. One of them lived thirteen years in captivity. They are considerably larger than a squirrel; the body is about twelve inches long, colored greenish-gray with a white belly; the fore and hind legs are golden yellow, face and ears white, snout black, and eyes large and brown. The hairy, soft tail is black at the tip and a little longer than the body, and serves the animal as a kind of balancing-pole when he takes his jumps. In sleep and at rest the tail is slung over the shoulders. These apes are very lively, always in motion, although they sleep through the day, and are extremely sensitive to cold. They lie much in the sun; and, if one would have them live in Europe, they must be kept constantly in a temperature of not less than 75°. They usually live in large troops of a hundred and more, not in the deep woods, but in the shrubbery on the borders of the woods, and support themselves on fruits, insects, and birds' eggs. I always got them quite young, and they soon accustomed themselves to milk, bread, and ripe bananas, on which they thrived well. When at first they were allowed to run around loose in the room, they would suck their thumbs like a child for hours at a time. Their clean, white faces, with the hair-line sharply defined, their black mouths, large, lively eyes, and their sprightly, confident behavior gained them everybody's liking. Although they were easily enraged, they would soon return to a good humor; and in most ways they behaved very much like little children. They never tried to bite unless they were irritated, and under good treatment were as harmless, pleasant creatures as one could find. They were kept tied under the galleries of my house, and at night were shut up in a kennel together, for they could not be allowed to run about in the house after they grew up, because they handled and spoiled everything. If they were allowed to run at large, they would attach themselves to the swine, and run around with them through the meadows. At five o'clock every evening, after the shutters had been closed, they were let loose, and had a mad chase among the bread-fruit and palm trees, which lasted till it grew dark, when they came of themselves to be shut up in their kennel. "While they ate insects, they did not seem to know how to distinguish the poisonous ones; and three of them died from eating the wrong butterflies. We were indebted to these little animals for much entertainment in our solitude on the Maroni. These apes are not docile, and, notwithstanding their comparatively large foreheads, they are far beneath the capuchin apes in intelligence. When they feel well, they purr like a cat; when frightened, they utter a sharp, shrill, palatal sound; if angry, they scream like a magpie. They were usually brought to me from the sea-shore, where they used to sport in the most lively manner among the awarra palms, never seeming to mind the long, sharp thorns with which these trees are covered. The Indians shoot the mothers while they are carrying the young on their backs, or else they shake the young from the trees after the mothers have set them down. Males are rarely taken, but nearly all that are caught are females.

I had at several times specimens of another pretty ape, the manaku (Pithecia leucocephala), called by the French maman dinan, and arighi by the Caribs. It is not larger than the squirrel-ape, but seems to be twice as thick, on account of its long hair. The male is dark-gray and covered with long hair, with a hairy and bushy tail about ten inches long. The light-yellowish, hairy face looks like a mask, beneath which the black nose and the mouth are strongly marked. The female is brownish. This monkey is easily tamed, but is always shy and melancholy. It lives in troops of not more than ten members, in the deep woods. It is quite rare.

These eight monkeys are the only species that live in Dutch Guiana, no others being known, even to the Indians, Such broad streams as the Amazon, Orinoco, and Rio Negro seem to make a separation between species, so that mammalia, even when the plant-life is alike on both sides, are wanting on one side of the waters while they are common on the other side.—Translated for the Popular Science Monthly from Das Ausland.