A Bushbaby cries.
For fear and fear alone.
Many African tribes have many different superstitions. Some came with folklore and many have an origin, chilling the spine, and makes you wonder about the realities of our world.
One such belief, is telling about a very interesting snake. It is malicious, hides behind rocks and trees, waiting for its victims. It will then attack the victim with a ferocious bite on the head, leaving a big, ugly, gaping wound.
Plenty of times, when walking in the mountains, through the thicket of the bushes, these people will keep on warning you about this snake. They will be able to describe it, allthough none has ever seen it. The snake is quick with an evil eye. If you look him in the eye, you will drop dead right there in your tracks. Sounds a lot like Medusa, doesn't it.
Apparently it has feathers on its head, and makes a sound similar to that of a chicken's cocking and crowing. I must admit, though, that I myself have heard such sounds in the mountains, when these people made me aware of the distant noise.
What relevance ?
Now you might wonder why we are discussing a snake, when the topic is a bush-baby. You see this adoring little creature makes sounds. Bushbabies have at least eigteen different calls, from croaking, chattering and clucking sounds to shrill whistles in the case of danger.
Some of these sounds are very similar to the sounds of the feather-head snake. It is because of his cry, it gets killed. Humans fear that they might not hear and distinguish the real enemy.
But this is not the only threat this small creatures have to avoid. They fall prey to larger owl species, eagles, snakes, serviles, genets and African wild cats.
For this reason they prefer to stay in the trees, and hide during the day. They have adapted in such a way, to become arboreal and nocturnal animals.
Three of this little creatures crept unasked for in my heart and life. They shared my living space, found a sanctuary and safe haven, to hide from the dangers out there. They did not come all at once.
I never found any pleasure in keeping captives. A sense of nauseating loneliness overwhelms me, when seeing birds and wild animals in cages. Especially when they are lonely.
Having a rural clinic in the wilderness of Africa, it was just natural for locals and foreigners alike, to bring anything and anybody needing care, to my place.
Rafiki was the first. Later he would turn out to be the apple of mine eye. When he arrived, the starving little baby was cold and listless. His enormous eyes were too tired to stay open, and apathetically he gave himself over to whatever fate was awaiting him.
I took his limb, tiny body in my hands, barely bigger than a freshly hatched chicken. A strange wave of primitive mother instinct overwhelmed me. The realisation of my inability left me panicked. I am not a monkey, and what do I know how to raise a bush baby. The world did not care, he was my responsibility now.
What about food?
Taking care of him did not turn out to be that difficult. As Rafiki was from the thick tailed Bushbaby tribe, the largest of the galago species, he was tough. Being gumivorous and frugivorous, and eating insects, fruit, leaves, flowers, lizards, eggs and birds made it relatively easy to feed him. He mostly hunted for himself. Basically unimaginable to physically hunt and catch a gecko and feeding it to an ape, we just saw that he had enough fresh and dried fruit to eat.
The babies become independent from their mothers between the fourth and fifth weeks after birth. He turned out to be a bit dehydrated, and after having some paw-paw to eat he appeared to be much better. After making him a nest with baby blankets in a doll's crib, he rolled himself into a coil, gave us one last peep through tired eyes, covered his head with his bushy tail and went to sleep. He knew he was safe now.
We never kept him in a cage. Being nocturnal and dispersing from their birth territory in natural circumstances in any case, he found it very comfortable with the humans. He slept most of the day in the most unusual places in the house. His favourite spot was on the bookshelf.
Since 1995 research has recognised seventeen species of the galago, which used to be believed existed only of six groups. The thick tailed bush baby are known to be the most sociable of them all.
At the time of his arrival, the cat Nala had a litter of kittens. They all became best of friends. One cat in particular, Toulouse, was his favourite. They would play hide and seek, stalk each other, have a real live WWF wrestling game on the carpet, and then much later fall asleep, exhausted in each others arms.
Because of his presence, the squirrels close by, started coming inside the house as well. Many nights the children would wake up with a few squirrels playing touches with each other in the bedrooms.
All around the house, in the trees, were families of bush-babies living a normal bush-baby life. Come nighttime, Rafiki would get bored in the house, and went to investigate, frolicking with his own species in the dancing moon rays.
At round about three in the morning, he would come to bed, making sweet little noises in my ear. After lifting the blanket, and he will curl himself in the crook of my neck, holding onto my flesh with his rubbery fingers and fall asleep.
The price of caging.
Not long after Rafiki became a rock solid member of the household, I was approached by a young man. A contract had been awarded to a group to build new roads, and the work was finished.
This man was part of this group, returning home, and had a bushbaby, rescued from starvation as well.
Stompie was not as fortunate as Rafiki. Because of the hours his previous rescuer was working, he had been locked in a room for all hours of each day. He was scared of humans and his own kind alike. He had no stimulation as youngster and was quite an idiot in some situations.
It took him a long time before he started playing with Rafiki. His eye-hand motor reactions was considerably slower than expected. His instincts was retarded.
Bushbabys cannot move their eyes in their eye sockets, and have to move their heads continuously, in order to see their prey. They have a series of fine folds in their big ears, aiding their acute hearing. This makes it possible for them to even hear the gliding of the wings of an owl on the midnight sky!
Stompie lacked the opportunity to have developed these skills in his closed environment.
We rescued him one evening, just in time, from becoming a meal for the python living on our property. He was walking straight to the snake, whilst investigating to satisfy his curiosity.
Python? Yes you heard me right. Seven of them had also been accommodated in different time periods, on the very same property. They came by themselves and stayed.
Eventually they would outgrow their welcome. Later as young, strong adults, they became too big for the occasional rat passing by and the eggs left for them, which could not satisfy the appetite any more. As the potential targets could become the cats and dogs, they were captured. Taken to the field, and released close to a brook, a normal snake life in Africa was then continued.
Non natural dangers.
One evening we sat in the living room. My wide eyed children were sitting in a line on the sofa, intently listening to a story I was conjuring from my imagination.
Suddenly we heard a chilling, unnatural scream. Short staccato yells sliced the rustic murmur of the ocean waves in front of the house. Running to the outside in horror, we recognised Rafikis voice, but could not see him. We followed the sound.
A big floodlight shone a 1000 watt bright light into our eyes and blinded all sight. The sound was beyond that light. As we entered the blind spot of the light, I saw my beloved bush baby hanging, with clutch-cramped fingers on an open electrical wire. Sparks shot from the edge of his tail and from his ears. I smelt his burnt flesh.
I grabbed him by the tail and pulled with a mighty blow. The current let go of him and he grabbed me around my neck. He was rather confused, and as I held him, he bit me. I just held on and ran to the house. The wire has burnt through his flesh right to the bone. He calmed down as I treated the wound. He never went to shining lights again.
Then came Abu. He was a cute baby who was thieved away from his mother to be sold for money. As this is an illegal practise, I had him confiscated and added him to the two at home. Enough food and shelter were available and at night the trio would go to the trees and have a ball of a time with the mates in the bush. Come morning, the three returned for a snack and a warm bed.
Rafiki was the first to leave the nest. I felt happy for him. He was strong and beautiful, and had a few pretty girls. He stayed away for longer periods of time. Later he came home with a lady to introduce her, but she did not trust us enough to come close.
His visits became less and less, and I understood. He lived close by, and I could hear him on many occasions. Sometimes I would sit late at night reading a book. He would stalk me from behind, jump onto my head, giving me a heart attack, and enjoy every moment of it. He would allow me to cuddle him a bit, and would eat some raisins. Then he would disappear in the wee morning hours, back to his new family.
Stompie and Abu followed soon after. They had a big brother, they knew, in the trees. He was fending for their rights. They did not visit as often as Rafiki, but they did came some times.
Stompie, by now, could also jump his average of more than twenty feet a jump and catch his grasshopper in mid air. He had been taught how to mark his route with his urine, and catching the exact same branches on his return trip which he used on his ventures to the outside world.
I missed them, and still do. In the evenings, when I am in the field, I can hear the bush baby's cry. Then I remember, and my heart warms in a glow. They gave me a treasure, never to be taken from me, no matter what.
How will you help?
Sometimes humans do intervene a bit in nature for the good of a species in trouble. It will not be totally uncommon to find a starving infant bush-baby in the woods. Though it is not regular for the mother to have more than one baby at a time, twins sometimes happen. She will abandonn one if she feels endangered, and then carries one of the twins off to a safer place.
We must just recognise and realise they are different. To accommodate the differences needs knowledge and opportunity. May knowledge increase in such a way for peace and harmony to to live amongst the creatures of the world. May my story one day, help to save and recover the life of another baby that cries!
We must just notice, that a bush baby in captivity has a life span of about sixteen years maximum. In their own habitat they will see a decade passing by. Which one will you choose if you are the monkey?