Cloudy With a Chance of Monkeys | Tracking Diaries #11

Cloudy With a Chance of Monkeys | Tracking Diaries #11

 

“Ow! Ow, ow ow owwwwch!” I crouch down and hold my head in my hands, my skull still ringing with the impact. I feel as though I’ve been clonked with a falling coconut, or perhaps a rogue meteorite, though on some level I know that if this were the case I’d be far less conscious right now.

“Are you okay?” Amelia calls out to me from across the path.

“I’m fine,” I growl back, perhaps unconvincingly. I don’t stand up yet.

Jobo trees can grow up to nearly 20 meters/70 feet high, and the small orange fruits are about the size of a golf ball, with dense flesh and a spiky kernel. They are less deadly than coconuts, which are in fact less deadly themselves than urban legend would suggest, with less than 20 verified deaths by coconuts since 1777. Two of those cases were of trained monkeys who were supposed to be harvesting the nuts but instead dropped them on their master’s heads, which just goes to show… something. Perhaps those monkeys are terrible employees.

Sloth tracking is a dangerous business. The sloths themselves are pretty safe; they’ll claw or bite if you get too close, but they are usually easy to stay away from. In fact, they might be most dangerous when falling out of trees themselves–twice in seven years, I have been within 3 meters/10 feet of a raining sloth (an experience that does not get any less weird with repetition) though I am happy to say that in both cases the sloth was fine.

(Preliminary data from our own Urban Sloth Project has revealed that sloths are well adapted to this and fall out of trees quite often. So often, we suspect it may not be an accident; it might simply be the quickest way out of a tree for a creature that cannot jump.)

Plenty of other things will try and kill you in the jungle. Trees fall in the forest fairly regularly, I’ve seen fer-de-lances up where the jungle is thicker, and coral snakes in Luna’s territory. There are mud holes that will suck your legs down, rocks that will break them, and cliffs that will tempt you into following ghostly radio signals right into thin air. There are killer fuzzy caterpillars, giant stinging death hornets to be allergic to, and of course thousands of the most deadly insects in the entire world: the mosquito, and whatever diseases they happen to carry.

In the end, it’s the microbes that get you.

None of this is any consolation as I finally stand up, holding my head and anticipating a splitting headache. I pull out the binoculars and look up; sure enough, a troupe of howler monkeys is hopping around the jobo tree, dislodging the fruit they aren’t eating, and completely unconcerned with humans far below them.

“I think I found Luiza!” Amelia waves the antenna at a different forest giant, and I turn my gaze to the new tree. Luiza is perched high in the uppermost branches, gently swaying in the wind, and incidentally totally safe from monkey-launched Jobo fruit.

She’s safe for now. But maybe not tomorrow; her safety is as solid as the trees she lives in, and they will only stand as long as we fight for them.

I rub my head, put my hat back on, and pull out some tech for taking today’s measurements, keeping a wary eye on the insolent monkeys. Sloth tracking is a dangerous business, but sometimes it’s worth the risk.