This morning I came across a dead monkey in the undergrowth only a metre from the surfaced road that runs through Don Chao Poo Forest, Phana. It was a young male, not much more than an infant, so perhaps about two years old. He was lying on his stomach, limbs splayed out and with head turned towards one side. There was a considerable amount of sand on his fur, suggesting that he had been dragged to that location. There was no visible cause of death and nor was there when I later removed him and made a cursory examination of the body. A road traffic accident would have left some visible sign such as blood or damage to the skull but there was neither. He was well fed, and fur in good condition, so it seems unlikely that he died of disease. My conclusion is that he died an accidental death probably by falling out of a tree.
(At this point I should perhaps make two autobiographical observations: I read a great deal of ‘police procedural’ fiction and it is coming in unexpectedly useful. Secondly, I have often thought it surprising that more young males don’t come to a bad end as a result of their dangerous-looking play in trees: I almost want to say “I told you that was dangerous”.)
When I discovered the body of this young monkey I was picking up litter in the undergrowth. There were perhaps 50 – 60 monkeys on the road nearby, all within about 20 metres of me. None of them took any notice of me, but then they never do because they know me well, and know that I am not going to feed them or cause them any harm. I spent some time looking at the body, photographing it, moving around it. None of the monkeys took any notice of me that I was aware of, although an infant in a low tree overlooking the spot did make some small noises. The other monkeys, however, did not respond to these noises.
I went away to fetch a bag and returned about ten minutes later. There were fewer monkeys on the scene when I returned and I became aware that the two nearest, perhaps just 2 metres from the body, were adults, a youngish male grooming a female who was sitting up and facing the spot where the body was lying. They watched me going back into the undergrowth but stayed where they were.
I put the dead young monkey into my bag and left. As I went away I looked back and saw that the male had left the female and was headed into the undergrowth to the spot where I had found the body. So this pair of monkeys were more than bystanders and suddenly I became aware that I had intervened in their grieving pro.
I felt some guilt but had taken the body because it is very rare to come across one and the last I had found disappeared after I had been monitoring it for several days. That body had been slowly stripped of fur, the flesh eaten away, and then all the bones disappeared except one rear leg which had snagged in some nearby branches. A complete, undamaged skeleton would be very useful for our exhibition so I don’t really regret taking it. What I do regret is that I intruded on the grieving pair and didn’t just sit myself down at a distance and observe their behaviour. If I had recognised them for what they were, I would have done so.