V. UP THE RIVER OF TAPIRS
The following morning at sunrise we started again. This time only Colonel Rondon and I went with Benedetto and Antonio the Indian. We brought along four dogs which it was fondly hoped might chase the cashadas. Two of them disappeared on the track of a tapir and we saw them no more; one of the others promptly fled when we came across the tracks of our game, and would not even venture after them in our company; the remaining one did not actually run away and occasionally gave tongue, but could not be persuaded to advance unless there was a man ahead of him. However, Colonel Rondon, Benedetto, and Antonio formed a trio of hunters who could do fairly well without dogs.
After four hours of riding, Benedetto, who was in the lead, suddenly stopped and pointed downward. We were riding along a grassy intervale between masses of forest, and he had found the fresh track of a herd of big peccaries crossing from left to right. There were apparently thirty or forty in the herd. The small peccaries go singly or in small parties, and when chased take refuge in holes or hollow logs, where they show valiant fight; but the big peccaries go in herds of considerable size, and are so truculent that they are reluctant to run, and prefer either to move slowly off chattering their tusks and grunting, or else actually to charge. Where much persecuted the survivors gradually grow more willing to run, but their instinct is not to run but to trust to their truculence and their mass-action for safety. They inflict a fearful bite and frequently kill dogs. They often charge the hunters and I have heard of men being badly wounded by them, while almost every man who hunts them often is occasionally forced to scramble up a tree to avoid a charge. But I have never heard of a man being killed by them. They sometimes surround the tree in which the man has taken refuge and keep him up it. Cherrie, on one occasion in Costa Rica, was thus kept up a tree for several hours by a great herd of three or four hundred of these peccaries; and this although he killed several of them. Ordinarily, however, after making their charge they do not turn, but pass on out of sight. Their great foe is the jaguar, but unless he exercises much caution they will turn the tables on him. Cherrie, also in Costa Rica, came on the body of a jaguar which had evidently been killed by a herd of peccaries some twenty-four hours previously. The ground was trampled up by their hoofs, and the carcass was rent and slit into pieces.
Benedetto, as soon as we discovered the tracks, slipped off his horse, changed his leggings for sandals, threw his rifle over his arm, and took the trail of the herd, followed by the only dog which would accompany him. The peccaries had gone into a broad belt of forest, with a marsh on the farther side. At first Antonio led the colonel and me, all of us on horseback, at a canter round this belt to the marsh side, thinking the peccaries had gone almost through it. But we could hear nothing. The dog only occasionally barked, and then not loudly. Finally we heard a shot. Benedetto had found the herd, which showed no fear of him; he had backed out and fired a signal shot. We all three went into the forest on foot toward where the shot had been fired. It was dense jungle and stiflingly hot. We could not see clearly for more than a few feet, or move easily without free use of the machetes. Soon we heard the ominous groaning of the herd, in front of us, and almost on each side. Then Benedetto joined us, and the dog appeared in the rear. We moved slowly forward, toward the sound of the fierce moaning grunts which were varied at times by a castanet chattering of the tusks. Then we dimly made out the dark forms of the peccaries moving very slowly to the left. My companions each chose a tree to climb at need and pointed out one for me. I fired at the half-seen form of a hog, through the vines, leaves, and branches; the colonel fired; I fired three more shots at other hogs; and the Indian also fired. The peccaries did not charge; walking and trotting, with bristles erect, groaning and clacking their tusks, they disappeared into the jungle. We could not see one of them clearly; and not one was left dead. But a few paces on we came across one of my wounded ones, standing at bay by a palm trunk; and I killed it forthwith. The dog would not even trail the wounded ones; but here Antonio came to the front. With eyes almost as quick and sure as those of a wild beast he had watched after every shot, and was able to tell the results in each case. He said that in addition to the one I had just killed I had wounded two others so seriously that he did not think they would go far, and that Colonel Rondon and he himself had each badly wounded one; and, moreover, he showed the trails each wounded animal had taken. The event justified him. In a few minutes we found my second one dead. Then we found Antonio's. Then we found my third one alive and at bay, and I killed it with another bullet. Finally we found the colonel's. I told him I should ask the authorities of the American Museum to mount his and one or two of mine in a group, to commemorate our hunting together.
If we had not used crippling rifles the peccaries might have gotten away, for in the dark jungle, with the masses of intervening leaves and branches, it was impossible to be sure of placing each bullet properly in the half-seen moving beast. We found where the herd had wallowed in the mud. The stomachs of the peccaries we killed contained wild figs, palm nuts, and bundles of root fibres. The dead beasts were covered with ticks. They were at least twice the weight of the smaller peccaries.