I was wandering around the cages a few years back, gazing at all the monkeys….. It was a beautiful day in southern Florida. Birds sang and butterflies flitted about.
I arrived to the part where I keep macaques. I became aware of a sudden hush and glanced about for its source. I didn’t see anything. All of the guys in the cages were pacing as though they were preparing for a disturbance. When I turned to the northeast to gaze at the snow macaques, a battle broke out. The monkeys seemed to be attempting to distract me. The female snow macaque then dropped to the ground and lay motionless. It was quite silent. much too quiet When I came near to the snow macaque cage, the female dropped to her stomach, the other female monkeys began fighting, and the males paced.
This continued throughout the day while I worked outdoors. I called it a day. As I passed by the snow macaque cage again, I saw that the female seemed to be concealing something….hiding something. But what about me?
I sat 15 feet away from the fence at a picnic table and gazed. She clung to the pavement as fiercely as she could. The primates’ tension was palpable to me. I could see it and smell it, but what exactly was it?
I sat back down at the picnic table, this time with my back to the group of snow monkeys, and grabbed a metal mirror hanging from a Rhesus cage. They were observing me in the distorted mirror. Then I saw the woman stop gripping the pavement and gently rise, cradling a newborn child in her arms. The others gathered around her, soothing her and concealing her from me. I wept as I carefully removed the mirror. She and the others were attempting to conceal the child so that I could not remove it from them. What should have been a pleasant occasion became fraught with horror and worry. I could tell these monkeys didn’t like me; they just tolerated me because I fed them. They were profoundly in love, but they couldn’t put their confidence in me.
I entered the house.
The next day, I walked out, trying not to look at the snow macaques. But I saw her out of the corner of my eye….lay on top of the infant several times, trying to conceal it. That evening, I grabbed my binoculars and sat far away to observe. I was the first to see the gathering. Comforting mum while grooming the infant Then I concentrated on the baby. It seemed limp….pale and dead. I had no idea what was wrong, so I called my veterinarian. When the monkeys saw him loading the dart gun, their screams could be heard for miles.
The baby had died from suffocation.
When my vet told me this over the phone after examining the body at his office, I was reminded of a story I had read about a woman in a concentration camp who tried to keep her baby hidden and quiet, only to discover that the child had suffocated.
Many times since then, I’ve wondered if the snow macaque mother felt any relief that her baby had died, never to suffer at the hands of humans again.