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Monkey Tricks and Sally at the Zoo, edited by Andrew Lang

Naturalist’s Note-book.

Some monkeys are cleverer and more civilised than others, and the chiefs have their followers well in hand; every monkey having his own especial duties, which he is very careful to fulfil. When the stores of food which have been collected are getting low, the elders of the tribe—grey beards with long manes—meet together and decide where they shall go to lay in fresh supplies. This important point being settled, the whole body of monkeys, even down to the very little ones, leave the woods or mountain ravine where they live, and form into regular order. First scouts are posted; some being sent on to places in advance, others being left to guard the rear, while the main body, made up of the young and helpless monkeys, follow the chiefs, who march solemnly in front and carefully survey every precipice or doubtful place before they suffer anyone to pass over it.

It is not at all easy, even for an elderly and experienced monkey, to keep order among the host of lively chattering creatures for whose safety he is responsible, and indeed it would often be an impossible task if it were not for the help of the rear-guard. These much-tried animals have to make up quarrels which often break out by the way; to prevent the greedy ones from stopping to eat every scrap of fruit or berry that hangs from the trees as they pass, and to scold the mothers who try to linger behind in order to dress their children’s hair and to make them smart for the day.

 Under these conditions, it takes a long time even for monkeys to reach their destination, which is generally a corn-field, but, once there, scouts are sent out to every rock or rising ground, so as to guard against any surprise. Then the whole tribe fall to, and after filling their cheek pouches with ears of corn, they make up bundles to tuck under their arms. After the long march and the hasty picking, they begin to get thirsty as well as hungry, and the next thing is to find some water. This is very soon done, as they seem able to detect it under the sand, however deep down it may be, and by dint of taking regular turns at digging, it does not take long before they have laid bare a well that is large enough for everybody.

Monkeys love by nature to imitate what they see, and have been known to smoke a pipe, and to pretend to read a book that they have seen other people reading. But sometimes they can do a great deal more than this, and show that they can calculate and reason better than many men. A large Abyssinian monkey was one day being taken round Khartoum by its master, and made to perform all sorts of tricks for the amusement of the bystanders. Among these was a date-seller, who was squatting on the ground beside his fruit. Now the monkey was passionately fond of dates, but being very cunning was careful not to let this appear, and went on performing his tricks as usual, drawing little by little nearer to the date basket as he did so. When he thought he was near enough for his purpose, he first pretended to die, slowly and naturally, and then, after lying for a moment on the sand as stiff as a corpse, suddenly bounded up with a scream straight in front of the date-seller’s face, and stared at him with his wild eyes. The man looked back at him spell-bound, quite unaware that one of the monkey’s hind feet was in the date basket, clawing up as much fruit as its long toes could hold. By some such trick as this the monkey managed to steal enough food daily to keep him fat and comfortable.

No cleverer monkey ever lived than the ugly old Sally,  who died at the Zoological Gardens of London only a few years ago. Her keeper had spent an immense deal of time and patience in training her up, and it was astonishing what she was able to do. ‘Sally,’ he would say, putting a tin cup full of milk into her hands, with a spoon hanging from it, ‘show us how you used to drink when you were in the woods,’ upon which Sally stuck all her fingers into the milk and sucked them greedily. ‘Now,’ he continued, ‘show us how you drink since you became a lady,’ and then Sally took the spoon and drank her milk in dainty little sips. Next he picked up a handful of straw from the bottom of the cage, and remarked carelessly, ‘Here, just tear those into six, will you, all the same length.’ Sally took the straws, and in half a minute the thing was done. But she had not come to the end of her surprises yet. ‘You’re very fond of pear, I know,’ said the keeper, producing one out of his pocket and cutting it with his knife; ‘well, I’m going to put some on my hand, but you’re not to touch it until I’ve cut two short pieces and three long ones, and then you may take the second long one, but you aren’t to touch any of the rest.’ The man went on cutting his slices without stopping, and was quite ready to begin upon a sixth, when Sally stretched out her hand, and took the fourth lying along the row, which she had been told she might have. Very likely she might have accomplished even more wonderful things than this, but one cold day she caught a chill, and died in a few hours of bronchitis.