Thursday, April 22, 2010

Who is this Chiky Basterd, anyway?

Chiky was probably born in the Peruvian Amazon, some ways east of here. He arrived at the perfect time to be born a tamarin, right in the heart of the rainy season when the biggest and best trees are fruiting, and food is abundant, late November or early December. His group consisted certainly of a mother and a father, and there were probably also one or two other adults in the group. It's also quite likely that he had a twin who would travel aroud with him on their father's back.

One day, probably quite early in Chiky's life, something went wrong. Maybe he fell off of his father's back and was scooped up by miners in the area. Maybe someone came looking for baby tamarins to sell and took him and and his twin. Maybe something else happened. But the point is somehow, Chiky ended up in a butcher shop in Puerto Maldonado as a little girl's treasured pet. He's certainly not the only monkey to end up like that - I've seen baby capuchins and howler monkeys in the mercado. Chiky would eat the bugs and scraps of meat from the floor, and otherwise spent most of his time perched on her shoulder.

At about this time, we on the monkey project were beginning to despair. Monkeys were ignoring our bananas, and no matter how elaborate our traps or how frequently we spread overripe bananas throughout the jungle, they just weren't getting the hint. Though she had initially been resistant to the idea, Mini began considering getting a caller monkey. Caller monkeys are usually babies taken in a cage to sit by a trap and vocalize. The idea is that their vocalizations attract other monkeys to the traps. It's worked very well for other researchers, so Mini decided that it was worth trying. In early February, she and Gideon went down to Puerto to try to find a baby pichico.

After a lot of searching aroud mercados and friends of friends of friends, they ended up at the Carneterria Chiky was calling home. After some haggling over the loss of a pet, they paid the family some amound of money and took Chiky to Taricaya, a rehab center that returns animals from a variety of origins to the forest. They agreed to take Chiky as an animal confiscated from the pet trade, and allow us to borrow Chiky for the duration of the project. Ultimately, he'll be rehabilitated and end up part of a group of his own.

Chiky's full name, bestowed upon him by the man in charge at Taricaya, is The Chiky Basterd Guy, and it refers to (among other things) his strong aversion to being held, the biting that inevitably follows when you try, and his insatiable, terrifying appetite for live grasshoppers. The noise he makes when approached by a scientist bearing orthopterans is almost indescribable - some awful combination of the Tasmanian devil, a very petulant child, and a caterwauling stray, but higher pitched and more frantic. The noise is the same, whether the grasshopper in question is his first or fifteenth. One memorable day, this 200 gram, four month old monkey put away 27!! I've joked that Chiky could eat a jaguar if it was wearing a bug costume, and I still believe that to be true.

Chiky lives in a decent sized cage in our labe, constructed from galvanized hardware cloth, termite-free wood, anticipation, and excitement before his arrival. He has a ball to roll around and a baby rattle to hang from and shake. He climbs a rope ladder and perches on a shelf for us to rub his belly through the mesh. At night, he either sleeps in his towel hammock or the plastic trashcan suspended from the side of the cage and stuffed with fluffy towels. He gets taken to the field everyone morning where he sits in his cage close to the trap and whines, his baby calls enticing other monkeys to our trap. But someday soon, Chiky will get to live in the jungle for real, without the barrier of wire mesh separating him from the plants and the other monekys. He will hunt his own grasshoppers, hopefully after learning to suppress his terrible noise, and wheedle his way into a pichico group, probably in a way very similar to the way he's wheedled his way so firmly into ours.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like Chiky is a hoot! (If you don't mind my mixing my animals.) Thanks for giving us a better picture of this little critter.

    See you very soon!