Attacked by a jealous monkey

This is the story of how I came to be bitten by a jealous lady-monkey and survived to tell the tale.

In the interest of full disclosure, I also experienced a nightmare-come-true whilst volunteering at the Jaguar Rescue Center: I was attacked by an alpha female howler monkey who – evidently – perceived me as a threat to her position in the troop. Upon reflection, this is both flattering (“ha, she thinks I could steal her boyfriend!”) and insulting (“wait, she thinks I’m actually going to steal her monkey boyfriend??”) at the same time.

Anyway…when I was inadvertently left alone with the troop in the forest, she took the opportunity to jump on my back and start grabbing my hair. Now she had done this previously, but usually there was (and should be) a male volunteer to prevent or put a stop to this. But my co-volunteer had wandered off to look for something he thought we had left behind at the previous tree (which, I’ll add here, we hadn’t: it was right next to me at the second tree. Doh!).

So there I was, literally with a monkey on my back. I crouched down slowly and tried to gently ‘tip’ her onto the ground in the hope that she would realize that it might be more fun to run up the tree than to pull my hair out. Unfortunately, this particular monkey thought it would be more fun to kill me: she lunged for my throat, which became exposed as I began to rise slowly from the crouching position. I immediately threw my hands up to prevent her teeth from connecting with my throat and, as a result, my right hand caught her teeth instead. I struggled to disconnect her from me and push her away, and she bit me again alongside my left knee on her way to the ground.

She and I were finally separated, but we stood face to face, and she clearly wanted another go at me. I backed up, sweeping the ground for a stick or anything to fend her off with, and she moved forward. I backed up again, still searching for something to protect myself, and she continued forward. Oh, did I mention I had a baby howler monkey attached to me – clinging to my right ankle – at the same time? So I couldn’t use my feet to keep her at bay.

RTW-W11-Costa Rica-110114-1116When she was attacking me, I screamed; screaming being something one does when one is attacked by a monkey. Until this point, however, I had no idea what kind of scream I would make under such circumstances. Well I do now. It wasn’t pretty, but thankfully it was effective. My male co-volunteer finally (it seemed like absolute ages) caught up with us and called off the alpha female monkey from her mission. I stood there with blood dripping from my hand and knee, shaking. When my co-volunteer suggested that I should probably return to the rescue center’s main grounds, I started back in that direction. And then I heard him sharply shout the female howler monkey’s name, and I turned to see that she had started after me again!

To make a long story somewhat longer, a few hours later I visited the local doctor who prescribed oral antibiotics and an antiseptic spray to treat the monkey bite. Apparently – even though one of my wounds had not stopped bleeding – it is a bad idea to stitch up animal bites, as you want the bacteria to come out, not stay in. That night I had a terrible sleep as I re-played the event and imagined a variety of alternative (worse) scenarios. But I returned to the sanctuary the following morning and continued working with howler monkeys. Mind you, I never put myself in close proximity with that particular monkey again. You gotta draw the line somewhere!

With some distance from the event, I no longer feel strong antipathy toward the particular animal who attacked me (“that jealous b****!”); as someone said shortly afterward,”she was just doing her job”. Working with wild animals has an inherent risk of course. Overall, the pluses outweigh the minuses and, although I was absolutely terrified at the time, I can now chalk this up as a novel experience. It certainly has given me a good tale to tell at story-time.

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