An Empty Coast

An Empty Coast
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Monday, November 20, 2006

The pirates of Pretoriuskop

There was a headless corpse outside our tent in Pretoriuskop Camp, in the Kruger National Park, this morning.
 
"Pirates."
 
"Hmmm," said Mrs Blog. We'd slept in and they had come in the early morning. 'It's like some sort of a ritual with them."
 
Seen in isolation, or in their natural surroundings, peacefully picking things off trees and swinging from branch to branch, the vervet monkey is a cute little creature.  They stand about a metre tall, fully grown and are a light grey colour with dark faces and hands.
 
Like Australian tourists on holidays, however, if you get them together in a camp environment they become criminally obnoxious.
 
The troop of vervets that lives in and around Pretoriuskop Camp are, without a doubt, the baddest, mankiest, sneakiest, most troublesome group of primates I have ever seen. 
 
They rape, they steal, they kill at will, and seem to have a damned fine time in the process.  As well as behaving like pirates they even look like buccaneers.  There are several amputees and none would look out of place in a shirt with puffy sleeves, with a small parrot on his shoulder.
 
The pirate king - not the biggest male, but the smartest - is "one-arm-one-leg".  Named for obvious reasons, the unusual thing about one-arm-one-leg (it's not that unusual to see an amputee monkey or baboon - they tend to get electrocuted on power lines or run over) is that his missing arm and leg are both on his left side.  Amazingly, he runs faster than his cohorts and seems to be the chief rubbish-bin-opener.  He thieves more, fights more and roots more than any of them.  You have to be tough, I suppose, to live with two limbs missing in a group of bandits.
 
As well as conducting daily rubbish-removal services, the pirates also raid tents, clear the breakfast and lunch tables of the safari operators' camps, and jump up and down on tents and tarpaulins (for no other reason than to have fun and cause damage).  In between , there's time for a spot of weeing from trees (on vehicles, tents and, occasionally, people).  Their favourite food is marshmallows and they are not above breaking and entering to get them.
 
Even when acting naturally they are obscene.
 
Mating - as natural as it gets in the animal kingdom - can be quite a thing to behold in the case of some animals.  The precariousness of giraffes; the sheer logistical challenge of rhinos (the earth definitely moves); the wild, mildly-kinky biting and scratching of lions...  However, with the pirates it's usually plain disgusting.
 
I happend across Blue Balls the other day, one of the ring leaders (all adult male vervets display bright blue testicles when they're up for it - which seems to be most of the time, but Blue Balls is a particularly big monkey in all respects).  He was mating with one of the females, standing up and (jolly) rogering her from behind.   Nothing bad about that, you say... but underneath the female's belly was a tiny, terrified wide-eyed new born baby hanging on for its life.  Beside them was a juvenile monkey who was pummelling Blue Balls with his tiny fists (to no effect) throughout the whole beastly act, as if to say "leave my mummy alone, you bastard".  Blue Balls, calm as you please, looked over his shoulder at me at one point and I'm sure, if he was human, he would have winked at me.
 
When not eating marshmallows, bread, chocolate and other human food, the pirates will occasionally be forced to live off the land.  Again, even when behaving like normal monkeys they impose their own particular reign of terror.
 
One of them was sitting on the grass next to the camp fuel station the other day and I stopped to look at him.  He was picking at something in the grass.  I smiled.  Nice, I thought, to see him as he should be.  He picked up a large dung beetle and held it up.  Typcial, I thought.
 
I'm not a big insect fan, but you've got to love dung beetles.  Built like miniature front-end loaders they scoop up pooh with their flat little noses and roll it into a ball.  The male with the biggest ball gets the girl, and together they implant their little eggs (or larvae or whatever) into the ball and bury it.  The net result is that months worth of dry season pooh is cleaned up in a few days and, throughout the rest of the rainy season, they keep the roads and the campsite nice and clean.  Lovely little useful creatures.
 
Which, of course, makes them the sworn enemy of the vervet monkey, whose role in nature is to steal food and pooh in inappropriate places.  Favourite spots for leaving their calling cards are camp chairs, tables, car roofs, awnings and the very tops of dome tents (where it's almost impossible, without collapsing the tent, to remove it).  Their droppings, of course, smell incredibly bad, as befits the bikie of the animal kingdom.
 
So, this pirate looks at me, holds up this magnificent little obsessive-compulsive creature, and bites its head off.  He then tosses away the body away.  Like a lion killing a cheetah or a leopard he doesn't want to feed on his enemy, just take it out of the game.
 
I looked again at the headless corpse of the little dung beetle outside the tent and scanned the trees above. 
 
"Pirates." 
 

5 comments :

Bec of the Ladies Lounge said...

Arrgh, Capn', be ye keepin' a close watch on yer own wench there, lest them pirates come a pillaging for human plunder one moonless night...

Anonymous said...

I would say you've shattered my illusions that monkeys are sweet little creatures, but ever since I witnessed one biting the end off a pencil that had been proffered to him by a kid at school on as trip to the zoo aged six, I haven't had any illusions on that score.

Still Mr Blue Balls sounds like a fine figure of a monkey, and probably wouldn't look out of place in a film about the fall of Rome...

Am in awe at your bravery in even considering camping next to such reprobates, let alone staying there any length of time...

Muzbot said...

Awwww, aren't they cute. Although, even as a biker, I would never crap on someones tent. That's just rude.

Stomper Girl said...

Here from the Ladies Lounge. Enjoyed the monkey tales. I swear when I was in Sri Lanka I saw an adolescent monkey having a wank and then flinging his semen at another monkey.

Carolyn said...

Blue balls. Heh heh.