Little brown faces peeking out from behind the fig palm fronds, barking a warning at our presence as they stuff fruit in their mouths then scurry off to get some distance between their breakfast and the perceived threat of our presence– these are the Brown Capuchin Monkeys of the Amazon Rainforest.
I had seen various monkeys before. In zoos. In ‘habitats’. As sad little entertainers leashed to some unenlightened person. But I had never experienced them in the wild, where they are part of the environment, swinging through the trees eating figs and fruit, scolding each other and everything that displeases them and certainly never in large troupes. But now I can check that off my list.
My sister and I spent many mornings in the Amazon on birdwatching hikes and it was on the return of one of these when we heard a sudden snap of branches overhead as large pieces of fuselage from a fig palm crashed to the ground; we ducked our heads in alarm, then saw the palm fronds and branches twist and rotate in a violent dance. Up and down, to and fro as though a squall had materialized right before our eyes in an otherwise peaceful forest.
But the squall was just a troupe of Brown Capuchin Monkeys. The troupe was rambling through the fig palms, stripping dry peels of brown fronds and letting them fall as they went about their fig hunt.
Somehow, they looked nothing like the ‘habitat’ monkeys. They had a sense about them, a wildness the permeated not only their actions but also their character. Their unrest at people being in the area, their area, was palatable and brought a cacophony of scolding and branch ripping, adding to the squall. As I watched them watching me, I could see difference between wild vs. habitat. These guys scolding me from above were edgy, wary and ready for flight and had the physiques to make it happen, much trimmer but the hard muscled bodies were easy to see even from a distance. They had a confidence, a ‘we belong here, you don’t’ kind of snobby attitude along with the knowledge of numbers; they were all family, basically thought with one mind, one set of rules.
One does not see that in the zoo or ‘entertainment’ monkey. When we see the unhappy leash monkey, a very social little creature, existing without the confidence that comes with belonging to family, with monkey rules and order, without ‘backup’ one has to wonder how miserable they must be.
A walk through a rainforest on a beautiful morning reminded me that families come in all shapes and sizes and as much as we find our own family sacred, worry over our children, give them the best opportunity for a full and happy life - so does every other family on Mother Earth.