A monkey grabbed my iPhone.
Just after I snapped the above photo, it reached out and wrapped its lithe little fingers around the brushed aluminum case.
A brief struggle ensued.
We were in Belize, at the Community Baboon Sanctuary, so named because it is run, not by the government, but by seven communities which banded together in 1985; 240 landowners agreed not to cut down trees that house howler monkeys.
Now there are thousands of them. The sanctuary is run by a women's cooperative. The monkeys are called "baboons" in the local Creole, even though they are not what the rest of the world considers baboons.
Our guide was a woman with an official-looking ID tag who approached us in the parking lot. She identified herself as "Geraldine the Jungle Queen" and escorted us to a spot just within a wood, across the street from the parking lot.
A half dozen monkeys, one with a baby clinging to her dark brown fur, appeared above our heads. Geraldine instructed us to take leaves and feed them to the monkeys, which we did. She also imitated their distinctive roar—they're called howler monkeys for a reason—and the dominant male answered back. Later, I recorded the sound at the Mayan ruin at Caracol, and you can hear it here.
Geraldine was one of several guides in Belize to tell us that the howler monkey cries were used to vocalize the dinosaurs in "Jurassic Park," though a bit of digging showed that to be a slight exaggeration: howler monkey cries were used for only for one dinosaur, the Dilophosaurus, and then they were mixed with hawk screeches, rattlesnake hisses and swan calls.
Most of the monkeys tentatively accepted leaves from the others in our party, but mine got down into my face. I'm not sure if it was because he identified me as strong or weak, the Alpha Male or a straggler from the herd. Maybe he just liked the phone.
The monkey grabbing my phone was strong. Geraldine said that howlers are known to take a 16 gauge shotgun and bend it in half. I don't believe that—the creatures can't weigh more than 15 or 20 pounds—but the guy did have a tight grip. I must have wanted the phone more, however, and after we met eye to eye a moment, gazing at each other in mutual incomprehension across a chasm of biological time, I pulled the phone away.
Relief that my iPhone wasn't being born up and away into the trees was replaced in a moment with a kind of regret. Losing the phone to a monkey would have made a better story. Imagine explaining that to the tech folks back at the Sun-Times. "I need a new phone ... because a monkey stole mine." I'd have to get a new iPhone, the 8, with its vastly improved camera. As it was mine had difficulty photographing the very dark monkeys against the light leaves, seeing their faces and small hands.
Thankfully, my older son has an actual camera, and captured me with the monkey. No doubt humans interacting with monkeys is bad for reasons that will be explained, huffily, to me very soon. But we felt thrilled and grateful to make their acquaintance. And I was relieved and sorry to still have my phone.
|Photo by Ross Steinberg|