CHAPTER XXX. MONKEY HUNTING

Our most exciting sport at the Nam-ting camp was hunting monkeys. Every morning we heard querulous notes which sounded much like the squealing of very young puppies and which were followed by long, siren wails; when the shrill notes had reached their highest pitch they would sink into low mellow tones exceedingly musical.

The calls usually started shortly after daylight and continued until about nine o'clock, or later if the day was dark or rainy. They would be answered from different parts of the jungle and often sounded from half a dozen places simultaneously. The natives assured us that the cries were made by hod-zu (monkeys) and several times we started in pursuit, but they always ceased long before we had found a way through the jungle to the spot from which they came. At last we succeeded in locating the animals.

We were inspecting a line of traps placed along a trail which led up a valley to a wide plateau. Suddenly the puppy-like squealing began, followed by a low tremulous wail. It seemed almost over our heads but the trees were empty. We stole silently along the trail for a hundred yards and turned into a dry creek bed which led up the bottom of the forested ravine. With infinite caution, breathing hard from excitement, we slipped along, scanning the top of every tree. A hornbill sitting on a dead branch caught sight of us and flapped heavily away emitting horrid squawks. A flock of parrots screamed overhead and a red-bellied squirrel followed persistently scolding at the top of its voice, but the monkeys continued to call.

The querulous squealing abruptly ceased and we stood motionless beside a tree. For an instant the countless jungle sounds were hushed in a breathless stillness; then, low and sweet, sounded a moaning wail which swelled into deep full tones. It vibrated an instant, filling all the forest with its richness, and slowly died away. Again and again it floated over the tree tops and we listened strangely moved, for it was like the music of an exquisite contralto voice. At last it ceased but, ere the echoes had reached the valley, the jungle was ringing with an unlovely siren screech.

The spell was broken and we moved on, alert and tense. The trees stretched upward full one hundred and fifty feet, their tops spread out in a leafy roof. Long ropelike vines festooned the upper branches and a luxuriant growth of parasitic vegetation clothed the giant trunks in a swaying mass of living green. Far above the taller trees a gaunt gray monarch of the forest towered in splendid isolation. In its topmost branches we could just discern a dozen balls of yellow fur from which proceeded discordant squeals.

It was long range for a shotgun but the rifles were all in camp. I fired a charge of B.B.'s at the lowest monkey and as the gun roared out the tree tops suddenly sprang into life. They were filled with running, leaping, hairy forms swinging at incredible speed from branch to branch; not a dozen, but a score of monkeys, yellow, brown, and gray.

The one at which I had shot seemed unaffected and threw itself full twenty feet to a horizontal limb, below and to the right. I fired again and he stopped, ran a few steps forward and swung to the underside of the branch. At the third charge he hung suspended by one arm and dropped heavily to the ground stone dead.

We tossed him into the dry creek bed and dashed up the hill where the branches were still swaying as the monkeys traveled through the tree tops. They had a long start and it was a hopeless chase. At every step our clothes were caught by the clinging thorns, our hands were torn, and our faces scratched and bleeding. In ten minutes they had disappeared and we turned about to find the dead animal. Suddenly Yvette saw a splash of leaves in the top of a tree below us and a big brown monkey swung out on a pendent vine. I fired instantly and the animal hung suspended, whirled slowly around and dropped to the ground. Before I had reloaded my gun it gathered itself together and dashed off through the woods on three legs faster than a man could run. The animal had been hiding on a branch and when we passed had tried to steal away undiscovered.

We found the dead monkey, a young male, in the creek bed and sat down to examine it. It was evidently a gibbon (Hylobates), for its long arms, round head, and tailless body were unmistakable, but in every species with which I was familiar the male was black. This one was yellow and we knew it to be a prize. That there were two other species in the herd was certain for we had seen both brown and gray monkeys as they dashed away among the trees, but the gibbons were far more interesting than the others.

Gibbons are probably the most primitive in skull and teeth of all the anthropoid, or manlike, apes, - the group which also includes the gorilla, chimpanzee, and orangutan. They are apparently an earlier offshoot of the anthropoid stem, as held by most authorities, and the giant apes and man are probably a later branch. Gibbons are essentially Oriental being found in India, Burma, Siam, Tonking, Borneo, and the Islands of Hainan, Sulu, Sumatra, and Java.

For the remainder of our stay at the Nam-ting River camp we devoted ourselves to hunting monkeys and soon discovered that the three species we had first seen were totally different. One was the yellow gibbon, another a brown baboon (Macacus), and the third a huge gray ape with a long tail (Pygathrix) known as the "langur." On the first day all three species were together feeding upon some large green beans and this happened once again, but usually they were in separate herds.