The wildlife biologist spent a year studying the Honduran Golden-mantled Howler monkey, (Alouatta Palliata) in the jungles of the Caribbean coast of Honduras. It was difficult for the monkeys spend their lives eating, sleeping and living high up in the tropical tree canopy. Their back fur with a patch of gold on either side earns them the name “golden-mantled, while the combination helps to blend their bodies into the shadows of the leaves and branches. Whenever the wildlife biologist could he studied skeletal remains so that he could measure bones. He was particularly interested in documenting the size of the enlarged hollow hyoid bone in the throat near the vocal chords because this bone is what enables the males to howl. He recorded howls and documented that the sound can be heard over three miles away. He confirmed the Guinness Book of Records entry, which gave the Howler Monkey the status of being the loudest land animal. During his research, the remains of one monkey baffled him for the skeleton evidenced a perfectly set right arm. He could find no rational explanation how this could have occurred especially in a species which relies on arms and hands, legs with feet with the agility of hands, and prehensile long tails; to enable swinging from tree to tree. How could a monkey, in the wild, suffer a breakage like that and recover so perfectly? He interviewed all the known wild life centers and parks in Honduras but found no explanation. No-one knew of set bones in monkeys who later escaped, or were released, into the wild. He wasn’t sure about including this baffling information in his final paper but decided that he ought to air the question so that some future scientist could unravel the mystery. Years later, he read a short story in an obscure anthology written by a young missionary doctor for her children. It went as follows.
CheChe lived in a semblance of paradise, but she was not happy. The evening sea breeze rustled the leaves at the tree tops, and the branch, on which she clung, swayed. The noise of the movement among the leaves blended with the remote sounds of waves washing ashore, and the movement of water at the stream in the bottom of the ravine. These background sounds soothed the senses of all but CheChe. She ate methodically and as she chewed she glanced down into the depths of the ravine in which her tree stood. Now that the sun was low in the sky everything was in shadow, but in her mind, she saw the noon sun penetrating the jungle growth throwing shafts of pulsating light into the depths of the ravine, indeed even down to the small stream between the mossy rocks at its deepest point. The memory brought her anguish back to her for this was where, only yesterday, her cherished baby, Chet, had got hurt. She methodically ate some more leaves.
The rest of the troop of Honduran Golden-mantled Howler monkeys, in which CheChe lived foraged for the best young leaves moving among the top branches of the trees. The seven other females who had lost their babies when Arrack took over as alfa male ate with apparent content. Now that they were childless they would soon start a new cycle, and Arrack would impregnate them with his genes. They accepted the scenario to be integral to life’s cycle as critical as the way that each had been evicted from their home troop at the onset of maturity.
CheChe loved Chet and screamed when Arrack tore him off her back. She turned and jumped upon him. Her counter attack was ferocious and unexpected; Arrack dropped Chet. The baby fell. He struggled as he passed through trees and vines, flailing his arms, legs and tail as he desperately tried to catch permeant hold of something. His actions broke his fall sufficiently so that, when he hit the ground, he was not killed, only suffering a broken arm. Arrack and CheChe followed him down. As Arrack swung forward to finish what he had begun CheChe attacked again. At twenty-one pounds and twenty-seven inches Arrack was bigger than CheChe who was a mere fifteen pounds and twenty-three inches. Unthinking, CheChe grabbed a stick and wacked her opponent. He looked at her in astonishment and might have responded by snatching the stick away from her; only, at that moment they heard cries from Chet. He wailed as he held up his arm bent in a distinct vee where the bones were broken. An injury like that spelt death, Arrack backed off. He climbed back into the tree canopy and settled down for an authoritative howling session.
CheChe often watched the people who lived on land, stolen, she thought, from her jungle. While she was pregnant, she had seen a little girl, hardly bigger than herself fall from a man-made tree house and raise her arm, which was bent in the same way that Chet’s was bent. She went on to witness the child with a stiff white arm and then, later, restored to new. She wondered if it might be possible that the child’s mother held a secret cure? She decided that she would find out.
Golden-mantled Howling Monkeys are naturally afraid of people and generally avoid them. However, CheChe rationalized the very worst that could happen would be she died trying to save her baby, the best, he might be cured. She saw the little girl’s mother station herself on her porch with a baby at her breast. CheChe felt a surge of hope. If the human fed her baby the same way that CheChe fed Chet then, surely, they could communicate.
Slowly, very slowly CheChe approached. The woman saw her and continued feeding her baby. CheChe pulled Chet off her back. She held him up to show the woman his broken arm. The woman nodded and got up. She made cooing noises and went into her house. CheChe was about to leave when the woman came back. The baby was gone, in its stead, she held a bag. She approached the monkeys and still making soft reassuring sounds gently touched the nasty cut which CheChe had received from Arrack in the fight. She rubbed on soothing lotion. At that moment, CheChe knew that this woman, a goddess, could help her. The woman took Chet’s arm in her hands and manipulated it gently all the time continuing her soft whispers. She tied a wooden spoon to the arm and bound it first in bandage and then in black cloth. She pointed at the setting sun and waved her arm to the east and back again to the west. She kept repeating the movement as she placed Chet on Che Che’s back. CheChe thought that she understood, “Come back tomorrow evening.”
At sunset, CheChe was back and the woman reappeared. Again, she held a bag. Again, she treated Che Che’s wound and took Chet in her arms. She felt and manipulated it until she was smiling and then wrapped it in plaster. She painted the plaster black to match Chet’s fur. She signaled to CheChe as she pointed at the moon. She held up a picture of a lunar cycle and kept pointing to the picture of the full moon which exactly replicated the moon of that day. CheChe understood, “Come back at the next full moon.”
At full moon, CheChe was back and found the woman waiting on her porch. Chet had grown considerably, and the plaster was scuffing his wrist. The woman brought out a tool and gently cut off the plaster. When she was finished Chet held up his arm; it seemed shrunken but was straight, and he was able to grab his mother’s fur and swing himself onto her back.
The wildlife biologist managed to track down the author of the story. When he found out that it was true he knew that his entire year of research had been misplaced. The mystery was not how a monkey got a perfectly set arm but rather how intelligent were these monkeys who could rationalize, and communicate with humans even to the extent of understanding the passage of time?