Popular Science Monthly/Volume 48/March 1896/The Story of a Monkey

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WE were on the third hour of our march, one morning; it was nearly nine o'clock, and the sun was already getting burning hot, when, turning one of the green capes which the forest sends out in the sea that washes its base, we perceived the gay tricolor flapping near a hut. It was the port of Nyanga (in the Congo country). We had completed a hard day's work on the previous evening. The great forest, composed of spiny palms and interlacing lianas, drove us continually to the edge of the raging sea; a leaden sun darted its burning rays upon us, and the reflection from the fine sand threw a blinding light into our faces, which we could only endure by half closing our eyes. We were broken up as much by this toilsome march as by the all-enveloping heat, which in spite of all the precautions we could take, with helmet and dress of light linen, produced at last that kind of insolation which is shown by the fever that reigns normally in this country, and which a trifle will arouse. A thing that rendered this march still more difficult was that the sea washing into the lagoons that stretched along the shore made their water brackish, so that we could only get a little fresh water in the evening by stretching out our India-rubber coats to catch the drops from a shower that came up.

The sight of the French flag refreshed our strength, and we walked more rapidly to reach it the sooner, and take a little rest that we greatly needed. The port of Nyanga was held by a brigadier of customs, M. Lambert, who gave us the privilege of his house with a sincere cordiality. It was decided that we should remain there two or three days and make some excursions in the neighborhood.

Not far from the house was a little straw hut used as a kitchen, to which our host went to give his orders. I followed him, and saw in it, in one corner, tied to one of the posts, a pretty monkey, which as we came nearer to it uttered low cries and stretched its hands toward us. I was struck with the beauty of the creature and asked why it was there. I was told that it had been three years at the post, and that it usually lived at large; but that it was sometimes necessary to tie it, on account of the mischief it would not fail to commit when it was allowed to run where it would.

As I took so much interest in it, it was tied to the veranda. We soon became the best of friends. It was very pleasant and familiar. It allowed itself to be caressed, and responded to the advances that were made to it with cries of satisfaction. It played like a cat, getting on our back and climbing up our legs and arms to our shoulder.

The animal charmed me by the gentleness of its manners from the beginning, but I was still more attracted to it by curiosity as to the species to which it belonged. Having no manual of descriptions by which to identify it, I was not able, at first, to refer it to any common type. But I considered that I was concerned with a rare, if not new, species of Cercopithecus.

The chief officer at Nyanga thought much of the gentle monkey, which he had had for some time, and which entertained him in his idle moments in the extreme solitude in which he lived. Yet, with the kindness I usually receive from the officers of the countries in which I travel, he offered to give it to me; and I confess that the animal was so scientifically interesting that I did not allow him to repeat the offer. When we left the port, two days afterward, I carried the interesting creature with me, and in recollection of the place where it had lived so long, I named it Nyanga.

From this time on, Nyanga formed part of our caravan. She was tied, of course, with a cord fixed to a little harness which was put upon her. By day the foreman of the caravan carried her on his shoulders, and at night she was tied to one of the posts of the tent. The best of care was taken of her.

Every one brought her a part of his meal, or some of the fruit found in the bush. In a few days she became perfectly at home with us. She allowed herself to be handled and caressed, and accompanied her graceful motions with low guttural cries expressive of her enjoyment.

When we afterward arrived at Letté Cama, our menagerie had been increased by several other monkeys; but these less familiar ones were confined in cages. Nyanga alone continued to enjoy a half-liberty. We shortly gave her a companion, a young monkey of the same species. Nyanga adopted it, hugging it closely during the night as they slept on a box in the tent.

One day when I was hunting in the forest around our camp some monkeys I had heard howling in the branches, one of my men met me and called to me to stop hunting, for Nyanga had escaped, and I might shoot her. I returned hastily to the camp and learned there that our pet, doubtless tired of being always captive, had gnawed her cord in two and fled into the woods. Baba, the Senegalian charged with the care of the menagerie, had gone on the track of Nyanga, who had not got very far away, but had climbed to the top of one of the great trees.

She was called to in vain; she had no thought of coming back, and seemed wild with joy at being able to leap freely from branch to branch, to run to the ends of the limbs and make them bend, and to pick the wild fruits, or catch some insect which she could crush for her amusement. To our appeals Nyanga answered only by cries of joy, as if to let us know she was doing very well where she was. My Senegalian sergeant had gone to a neighboring village to engage some pirogues with which we might cross the lagoon in continuance of our journey. He might

M. Dybowski's Little Congo Monkey.
(From a photograph by M. J. Ducom, taken in the Jardin des Plantes, Paris.)

return at any moment, and it would be impossible for us to wait indefinitely till our monkey should be willing to be caught. It would probably return at night to the camp, but it would be a whole day lost, and a complication added to our march to wait for that. I was perplexed which alternative to choose—whether to abandon the monkey or lose our time, perhaps for no good—for there was no certainty that Nyanga might not meet some companion and follow him without thinking any more of us. From time to time we heard her calls, which the natives knew so well. They call this species the king of monkeys, for they believe that when its voice is heard all the monkeys in the wood keep silent.

But Baba, the Senegalian, provoked that one of the monkeys given him to take care of should have escaped, made every effort to catch the runaway. He had climbed an enormous tree with a trunk so large that it could not be scaled except by gymnastic efforts of which the blacks alone, who are almost as agile as the monkeys, are capable. He was away at the top, close against a branch, motionless, and hardly distinguishable from it. He had taken with him a light pole at the end of which was fixed a cord with a slip knot, and he hoped that he could get near enough to the monkey to take it in his snare. With a patience of which we whites would be incapable, he waited for the favorable moment. He had been there nearly three hours without moving, when all at once we heard him crying out from the branches, "Nyanga is caught!" It was true. Baba had waited till the monkey in her gambols had got upon a large branch that hung directly over the lake, had urged her gradually to the slender extremities of the bough; and there the animal had been forced to let herself be approached, for her only means of escape was to jump from a height of forty or fifty metres into the lake on the bank of which we were encamped. This adventure cost Nyanga the loss of all her liberty. In order to prevent her escaping again she was shut up like any common monkey in a cage, and was not let out from it except when we were camped at a post.

After this long lapse of about a month, which was required for the return from these distant regions, Nyanga, with twenty companions of various species which we had picked up on the way, took the express to Paris, and entered the Museum of Natural History, where she became the object of special attentions.

M. Milne-Edwards, on examining the animal, recognized in it a species still very rare, of which the British Museum has three skins from the island of Fernando Po. Bennett made a new species of it, which he describes as Cercopithecus pogonias. The specimen we brought is therefore the first that has come to Europe alive. Fortunately, I killed an adult male of this species in my African hunts, so that the French galleries also possess a stuffed specimen of it.

The Cercopithecus pogonias is a type reaching the full dimensions of the genus—that is, adult individuals measure from about forty-five to fifty centimetres in height. Their tail is very long, reaching eighty centimetres. The skin is gray—almost black—upon the back, passes with a lighter tint on the flanks, and is changed into a bright red on the chest, abdomen, and inside of the limbs. The face is furnished with full, light gray whiskers on the cheeks, and a very peculiar aspect is given to it by two broad white rays that extend from the superciliary arches to the top of the head, and unite with the tuft of black hairs to form a forelock on top of the forehead. Two bands of the same dark color occupy the sides of the face. Captivity did not take away her charming manners from Nyanga. She came to us joyously and let us caress her, and we could let her out of the cage then without danger of her running away. But the amiable animal had just escaped the greatest danger.

Her skin is so beautiful, she takes care of it with such pains that she is in as fine condition as if she were living free in the forests of the Congo; so that a person, whom I will not be so unkind as to name, found her so well kept that he proposed nothing less than to kill her, in order to put her stuffed skin in the cases. Fortunately, this idea was not carried out; and it is not likely that the learned director of the museum would ever consent to listen to it.—Translated for the Popular Science Monthly from La Nature.