Do not buy wildlife; the story of Baby and Bully

Dear Editor,

For over one year, until recently, I shared my back yard with two beautiful brown capuchin monkeys. It was a magnificent experience and a journey I would like to share with your readers. Sometime in February 2015, two wild brown capuchin monkeys showed up in a tree at the back of my Rainforest Bed & Breakfast home. They looked hungry so I laid out one banana for each of them. Without any concern for the smaller female the larger male ate both bananas. Thinking they escaped from the zoo we did some research. I discovered that a diplomat three lots away and my neighbour Joseph, two lots away, were both feeding the pair of capuchins but no one knew where they came from. We concluded they must have been trapped and brought to Georgetown and had the good fortune to escape into the little remaining forest of Queenstown. At the back of my home there is an empty lot with over 30 fruit and non-fruit trees. From there they could work their way around the south and west side of the block, jumping from tree to tree.

20160327pet2 (saved in email)Every day the pair of capuchins visited the three houses, looking for handouts. When there was none they would help themselves to ripe mangoes, psidium, five-finger, bananas and even the hearts of some decorative palms growing in the yards. To hang out they seemed to prefer the four coconut trees in the vacant lot next to our backyard fence. They could often be seen there looking for live food. They would loosen the dead coconut branches and dig out and eat the grubs that live in the tree trunks. From the height of the coconut palms they could observe our activities in the kitchen and the movements of our guard dogs.

They were shy at first and easily frightened away but within a week they acted like they owned the back lot and had landowner’s rights. Our dogs would sit for hours gazing at the trees and then start barking as the monkeys came into view, jumping from the almond trees to the shorter coconut trees. They loved to run down the coconut tree branches hanging over the fence, stopping just out of reach of our excited dogs. The monkeys enjoyed the game and the eyes of the challenged dogs shone with excitement. It was interesting to watch the monkeys trick the dogs when we placed fruit on the porch railing. The female would hang upside down on the end of a coconut branch drawing the attention of the dogs while the male would jump down on the railing and pick up the fruits before jumping back onto the coconut tree. Although the female did half the work she never seemed to get any of the fruit.

20160327pet3 (saved in email)One day I went to the market and bought a nice hand of eight sweet figs. As always I placed them in a fruit bowl on the kitchen table. When Kamla, our helper, came into the kitchen she saw the bananas leaving through the kitchen door in the hands of a monkey walking on his two hind legs. The monkey jumped from the 2nd story porch to the coconut tree and made himself comfortable between the base of two palm branches. His much smaller partner looked at the bananas and edged expectantly closer. The male singlehandedly ate six of the bananas giving his ‘partner’ only the skins, but he could not finish the last two. When he stood up the female reached out her hand but the male took the remaining two bananas and placed them in a small pocket between the branches, covered them with leaves and sat down upon them. After a few minutes he stood up and extracted the last two bananas and devoured them. From that day on the male was called Bully and the female Baby.

Although we had fallen in love with Bully we felt sorry for Baby and devised a system to ensure she got her share of the fruit. We had a young man (Leon) climb one of the coconut trees in the vacant lot and hang a small pulley around the trunk about fifteen feet high. We hung another pulley from the 2nd floor porch at the same height and ran a line between the two with each end of the rope attached to a small plastic bucket. We would put fruit in the bucket and pull on the line until the fruit reached the coconut tree. Baby proved to be the brighter of the two and was the first to learn how to extract fruit from the bucket. Once Bully saw Baby removing fruit he took control and dominated the fruit bucket thereafter. While Bully was busy with the bucket we fed Baby on the porch. Bully then decided he was losing out and tried to control both the fruit bucket and the fruit on the porch railing. He would sit in the top of the coconut tree midway between the two feeding points and threaten Baby with sounds. Baby would let Bully make the first move. He would usually jump to the porch railing, grab the fruit and then rapidly climb to the top of the first coconut tree. From there he would launch himself flying 20 feet through the air. He would catch the end of a coconut branch and his weight would carry him in an ark towards the trunk of the tree where he would reach the fruit bucket in a matter of a couple of seconds. Sometimes he would get there before Baby but more often than not he would find an empty bucket with Baby sitting in the almond tree peeling bananas. If we stopped the fruit bucket halfway to the trunk of the coconut tree Bully would jump to the end of a coconut branch and hang from his third leg (his tail) while he extracted fruit from the bucket with both arms. Over time as Bully put on weight his leaps got shorter and his time slower.

Towards the end of 2015 we learned that Baby was not really a baby. I discovered that by watching them hunt, gather and frolic in their miniature forest in the middle of Queenstown. They began to spend more time together, forming a much tighter bond. When they were thirsty in the early morning they would go to a flowering tree, pick the pink flowers, roll them with their tiny hands and squeeze the dew into their mouths. Once Bully picked a young coconut, hit the top against the trunk, used his fingernails to open the top, drank the water like a thirsty man and pulled the jelly out through the hole with his long fingers. After feeding they would usually curl up in their favourite coconut tree and take turns picking fleas from one another.  After a time we noted they were becoming more intimate and started to act more like young teenage lovers. We began to imagine Bully, Baby and a young ‘real capuchin baby’ jumping limb to limb and tree to tree.  Although that was a nice dream I knew it would never happen because civilization continued to encroach upon the limited Queenstown forest.

Neighbours cut down more trees, making it difficult for the monkeys to continue their feeding circuit, so they tended to spend more time in the vacant lot south of the B&B. They began waking us up at 5 am by running over our roof, knowing fully well that we didn’t serve breakfast until 7 am. We were forced to screen our doors and windows to keep them out of the house and they killed nine small palm trees in our garden in their search for palm heart, which they loved.

Although we had fallen totally in love with Bully and Baby, and our guests loved filming them, we knew it was time for them to go. But go where? We couldn’t stand the thought of them living in cages so we began looking for a home in their natural environment. Fortunately Variety Woods and Greenheart Ltd offered to take them to their forest concession between the upper Berbice and upper Demerara Rivers where they manage a Biodiversity Reserve area for birds and mammals. We trapped Baby by enticing her into a dog trap with a nice hand of bananas. We did the same with Bully but he managed to escape and thereafter never came close to the dog trap. We then put a hand of bananas on the kitchen table, tied a long rope on the screen door and left it open and waited. Bully walked into the kitchen on two legs and jumped upon the table. As we pulled the door closed Bully panicked and ran downstairs and through the only open door into the laundry room. We closed the door and then let Prince, Supervisor of the Georgetown Zoo, into the room with a monkey net. Bully made one last jump to the screened grilled door and was caught in the net. He wasn’t hurt in any way but for the next two hours he cried, ranted and raved. It broke our hearts to see the sadness on his face, the terror in his eyes and the pain flowing from his lungs. I never again want to hear such sounds of suffering.

We delivered Bully, Baby and what looked like Baby’s twin sister (a stressed/frightened capuchin rescued from a vendor around Stabroek Market Area) to Variety Woods and Greenheart Ltd on the evening of January 23rd, 2016. By the afternoon of January 24th, all three monkeys were released in their reserve far, far away from danger. The dream we now have is to visit the biodiversity area some day and hopefully see Bully and his own tribe of little Bullys and Babys jumping tree-to-tree and limb-to-limb in their own private reserve. I thank Variety Wood and Greenheart Ltd for creating a biodiversity reserve. I thank Georgetown Zoo for coming to our assistance.

Editor, we plead with the public:

  1. Don’t bring wildlife to Georgetown.
  2. Don’t cut down the few trees remaining in Georgetown/Queenstown.
  3. When you see animals suffering, do something to improve their lives.
  4. Do not buy wildlife or trade in wildlife; they should be considered National Treasures and should be protected by us all.

Yours faithfully,

Syeada Manbodh

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