Tag Archives: spider monkeys

Monkey Jumps

I’ve seen monkeys work up the courage to jump, change their minds, jump and miss, but I’d never seen a monkey bridge, so I’ve included it – please excuse the quality.

I thought about posting this under the title ‘Neck Exercises’. For the first month or so, it was a case of ratcheting my head backwards over a series of notches until my chin was pointed to the sky and I was ready for monkey action, but eventually my neck got longer and more flexible, ending up like one of those cheap desk lamps. There are three of Costa Rica’s four monkey species in abundance here: howlers, capuchins and spider monkeys.  Capuchins are deemed to be the most intelligent, however spider monkeys are the most riveting; fluid movers who appear to have a lot of fun.

I thought a lot about Jane Goodall, the British primatologist, as I waited under trees getting bitten.  Jane Goodall has a long, bendy neck. Goodall winged her way into studying chimpanzees in Gombe Stream National Park, Tanzania without experience or qualifications (which, with the support of Louis Leakey, she swiftly accumulated), and it was her intuitive, fresh  observations that revolutionised our thinking about primates and our uncomfortably close evolutionary connections with them.  Her findings were shocking and amazing: evidence of toolmaking, the extent of group collaboration, cannibalism, but her anthromorphic approach, the way she named the individuals she followed – David Greybeard, Fifi and Flo, and Mike, and attributed, as critics would say, personalities, was controversial. Is still.

That was in the 60s. Suggesting – or rather, pointing out, that primates have fun, is still not a fashionable scientific concept, but I defy anyone to spend time watching  spider monkeys in the wild and identify what we regard as human emotions and motivations in their behaviour, from affection, fear, and joy to cheekiness, sneakiness, plotting and cooperation.


Incidentally Jane Goodall circa 1960-1969 (minus the time studying for a PhD at Cambridge) is someone I very much wanted to be, as I grew up devouring old, damp National Geographics and books like Innocent Killers and Grub: the Bush Baby (okay, that’s confusing because I also wanted to be Grub – why did we have to live in a house? why couldn’t we live in a makeshift river camp?). Satisfying observations, a life in the wild, contributions to conservation; flip flops, shorts and Landrovers, and married to the rakish Baron Hugo van Lawick – it all looked great.



I refer you to Being Jane Goodall in an old copy of National Geographic. And Innocent Killers is still a great read.





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I was trying to upload a monkey film. Spent about three hours holding my laptop to the clouds but to no avail. So tomorrow I shall take the boat out to the big city of Sierpe and head to the Las Vegas bar, watch crocodiles and upload stuff from there. Let’s hope it’s not raining.


Lights! Action! Nature!

lookoutsm2I think people come here expecting to see monkeys, macaws and butterflies and whatnot; they don’t expect to see them all at the same time. After months of living in the rainforest, I still find myself thinking ‘this is ridiculous – totally OTT’. Frankly, if a big shot movie director directed a jungle scene based on how things work around here in the Osa, he’d be a laughing stock. “Okay, cue the butterfly – make it bigger, yeah bigger, BIGGER – plate-size, yeah okay, now you got it – 10 of ‘em, flying nice and low. Now have scarlet macaws enter left – two? Are you kidding me? Ten! Have them fly around, land and squawk. We need some pelicans and frigate birds over the sea there. And some hawks, different sizes, but BIG, right? What’s their motivation . . . give them a bunch of monkeys to pick off – get the monkeys to SCREAM and do the grunty howling thing.  And we need some stuff down there near the tourists, like a snake, or one of those fat coatimundi things, and a puma . . . yeah!”

But here’s a faithful reflection of my day so far today.  Obviously it starts with the usual swish and boof the sea, and a waft of hot steam followed by the dawn chorus. (If you are looking for names of birds, you are going to be disappointed. I am not, as a visiting tourist told me, a ‘bird person’.)

5.30am: The ping pong bird – two notes and then a ‘song’ comprising the sound of a ping pong ball bouncing off into a far corner. Plenty of sssthwit-sssssthwits from a gap in the roof where a small brown, friendly bird is building its nest. I know it’s building a nest because it keeps dropping small sticks on the bed and then flying down and, bold as you like, collecting them. There’s the bright-rumped Attila, the ‘Get down! Hit the deck. Get down! Hit the deck’ of the kiskidees, and the ‘It’s ME! it’s ME! it’s ME! bird.

6.30am: All the above, now joined by belligerent squabbling scarlet macaws, and four or six chestnut-mandibled toucans on a cecropia tree by the window. I say something along the lines of ‘for goodness sake!’ and I get up.

7.00am: Leave the house, walk alongside the beach to the tractor. Scarlet-rumped tanagers flying at eye level, macaws take off in a panic. Looks like someone’s been riding a bike, although of course they haven’t as there are no bikes around here, which means the line in the sandy trail has been left by a snake. It stops abruptly – what’s that mean, then? I look around for holes and can’t see any. A lumbering coatimundi is picking over water apples under the massive tree at the end of the track.

8.00-12.30: Sit in the office and use the internet to book a flight for George and upload some images of pumas and pelicans sent by a guest. I radio Fanny to thank her for the sack full of lemons I found outside my door.

1.00pm: Plenty of rustling in the forest on the way down, and a strong skunky smell, probably, I surmise, made by a . . . skunk. There’s a hummingbird nest (occupied), and at least twenty types of butterflies wafting across the track, including the gorgeous blue morpho, and the tock-a-tock, tock-a-tock of a bird with a bright red head, the pale-billed woodpecker, on the tree right beside me.

1.15pm: I hang around the shady bridge over the stream by the plantains as is my wont, wondering if that stream really is my escape route from the house down below in case of emergencies. Big Hawk, who hangs out here, and usually just sits on the grass and stares back, takes off.  A branch cracks and falls, and a spider monkey appears in the crook of a dead tree, high above the canopy. He’s the lookout, not a particularly good a one, as it transpires. The rest of his lot, lope and trapeze their way out of dense rustling foliage and spend a painfully long time crossing a bridge of bare branches in plain sight. They’re heading down to the forest behind the beach house. There are some tiny monkeys among them, and possibly a newborn, clinging to a mother who, and I don’t want to get into the nitty-gritty here, seems to be trailing something glistening.

1.30pm: Catch up with the coatimundi again at the bottom of the trail. He’s now moved on to the star fruit tree – no wonder he’s fat. I amble back along the sea. The tide is out, stripy fish are trapped in the hot rock pools, crabs are scuttling, and the air is full of the smell of steamy harbour walls. I can see the trees rustling behind the house, branches bowing under the weight of the monkeys, but there’s a bit too much movement. There are a couple of hawks circling, and they are agitated.

1.45pm: As I cut up lemons for lemonade there’s a loud thud on the roof, and as I go out to inspect, a large fish head slides off it onto the lawn. Nice.

2.00pm: Stepping over the fish head, I carry lemonade, book,  (The Art of Racing in the Rain, set in Seattle, narrated by a dog, and written by Garth Stein), sunhat and shades, for what I intend to be an unusually relaxing afternoon, which it so far kind of  is, bar the pained screeching and cries of monkeys under attack and the excited screeching of hawks, and the ever present worry that it might be a monkey head that lands on the lawn next.

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