Most days Jim and I compete as to who has seen something remarkable. It can be a new animal, or a new behaviour, and if you manage to get photographic evidence, so much the better. Of course, if you didn’t carry the camera, something good ALWAYS happens.
Yesterday wasn’t unusual. Tamarin monkeys in the quebrada ( burn or stream ) at dawn. Our resident Great Black hawk who is now completely unperturbed as we walk under his favourite tree. A couple of sloths above the papaya patch. Capuchins and Howlers crossing from east to west as part of their daily commute across our garden.
So I just want to reassure the many people who have written concerned, I wasn’t bitten by a ‘wild’ animal, and it wasn’t on our property.
Charmer is anchored off an island 5km away. I had just finished cleaning the hull, and as my reward I finned over to the shallows, planning to look for seahorses around the pilings of the abandoned dock.
As I snorkeled along parallel to the shore, I became aware of animal noises. I pushed my self up on my hands to investigate, saw two monkeys staring intently at me and one immediately launched himself from the sand, jumped on my back, and took a bite at me. It happened so fast. His momentum toppled me back into deeper water, which was when he let go, and then I saw all the blood! As luck would have it, Jim wasn’t testing the main engine. He heard my panicked scream, and I waded out backwards into deeper water ( the only easy way with fins on) together enough to want to get further away from them, and also not wanting Jim to have to come in too shallow, with the outboard. I clambered inelegantly into the dinghy, and he told me to keep pressure on the wound, and we headed back to Charmer. Once onboard, I started to hyperventilate, and officially fainted briefly.
Thank heavens for friends. One phone call, someone met us on the mainland to help Jim get our dinghy out and onto the trailer, the vet was on hand to treat me ( who else has better experience of animal bites?) and, the hospital in Panama City were great. Two weeks on, I have graduated to steri strips to help the wound heal, antibiotics done and apart from frustration at not being allowed to do anything, all is good.
The back story? The animals were released there more than twenty years ago, along with some peccaries ( wild pigs) and various birds. As the US pulled out, bases were closed and these monkeys were part of a zoo in Fort Sherman. They were initially fed, just as in their previous life, but not caged, they were always free to roam. A family lived there and cared for them, but after they left, I am guessing it was assumed the monkeys had learned enough to forage for themselves.
The world has changed, and what was once a remote, relatively un-visited part of the Caribbean coastline, has slowly become busier. The white sand beaches nearby attract weekend visitors, and it has become a regular stop on the water taxi routes… stop and feed/watch/photograph the monkeys. But it isn’t regulated. Some days they score a lot of junk food ( no idea how that affects them physically but it can’t be good), other days people throw full beer cans at them… one of the people who helped placed them notes they were already pretty mischievous when still in the zoo, used to stealing sunglasses and picking pockets.
In the past I had never seen them enter the water, and that’s why I felt secure. Up until two years ago, they were my closest neighbours, and because of the many incidents we observed, we never set foot on the island.
They were, and are, completely unpredictable. Please note this change in behaviour, and give them a wide berth. That was one wildlife moment I intend never to experience again