|Bolivian Squirrel Monkey|
We sped through the chocolaty brown waters of Bolivia’s Yacuma River, the breeze giving us respite from the moist and muggy Amazon air. We’d seen a lot in one morning – capybaras, caimans, river turtles, river dolphins – and we settled in for a 45 minute ride back to our lodge for some lunch and a nap in a hammock. Wilbur steered us swiftly in the 20-foot long dugout canoe and then slowed us down, killed the engine and we slowly drifted towards the far bank. We were tiny white specks in a tri-color landscape of green trees, blue sky and brown water in the heart of the Bolivian Amazon.
With no breeze we started sweating and we wondered what Wilbur was up to. Suddenly, the branches of the largest tree from the approaching bank started moving and shaking. A closer look revealed that the tree was filled with about two dozen small Bolivian squirrel monkeys and they were coming our way as our boat now drifted under the branches. The monkeys let their weight bring the branches down to the boat and one boarded near the bow.
Squirrel monkeys live in the tropical rain forests of Central and South America in the canopy layer. They have short fur, olive colored shoulders and yellowish-orange coloring on their backs and extremities. The grow to about 25 to 35 centimeters and their brain mass to body mass ratio is a remarkable 1:17, the largest brain, proportionately, of all the primates. To put this in perspective, you have about a 1:35 ratio.
Our kids were by now anxious and I calmly told them “Don’t move. All they want are the oranges.” My voice was fatherly and authoritarian, laced with a hint of nervousness. I envisioned a worst case scenario of the kids being bitten by the monkeys and having to make the long 5 hour trek back to the closest town. By now, eight of them were on our boat looking for food. My wife was snapping photos and videos and one jumped in her lap. My son moved to the edge of his seat and another monkey jumped on the spot he vacated.
They quickly grabbed the oranges and peels from the bottom of the canoe and started leaving and we were relieved that everyone was safe and no one had been bitten. While I had sweated and worried about the kids safety, I felt that my wife -- who had filmed almost the entire episode -- was more concerned about missing any footage of the event.