Target: Cashew trees loaded with ripe and semi-ripe cashews. Past that, Chikoo trees also laden with fruit.
Competition: That ‘other’ troop – evil creatures who need to be eliminated.
Location: Manager’s bungalow garden at New Ambadi Estate, Kulasekharam.
We, Armiyaana Korangugal, are the World’s Greatest, Only True Believers, Bravest, Most Successful, Bonnet Macaques that ever existed.
The bungalow garden was about three acres in extent and had cashew, chikoo, (Manilkara zapota, commonly known as sapodilla, sapota, chikoo, chico, naseberry, or nispero is a long-lived, evergreen tree native to southern Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean but which grows very well in South India) and guava trees. This story is about two troops, gangs, cohorts, call them what you wish, of Bonnet Macaques that live on the estate and keep a close eye on the fruit trees with the sole intent of relieving them of their burden as soon as they are laden with fruit. The enterprise suited all concerned. The trees like it because monkeys are their guarantee of propagation of generations. They eat the fruit and pass out the seeds in dispersed locations, which is, let’s face it, the reason trees bear fruit anyway. Monkeys love the fruit and that is all that needs to be said. The problem was that ‘Other’ troop – Lowlifes – who dared to compete against the Armiyaana Korangugal (Best Monkeys) and so needed to be eliminated. Leadership, strategy, followership, planning, and passionate execution are all visible in this story.
The leader has the plan. Others follow. There is total discipline. The leader takes the lead which is why he is called ‘leader’ and the others, ‘followers’. There is no leading from behind in this case. They move in complete silence. Nursing mothers with infants are in the rear but they also come along because everyone must help, and everyone needs the spoils of victory. They come widely dispersed, singly and in twos, filtering through the rubber trees, climbing the terraces. If you weren’t looking for them, you would never see them, which is exactly what they want. If you watch carefully, as I was, astride Able Ally, my horse with Hooch, my Rottweiler sitting on the ground, vibrating with excitement but trained to remain silent. He knows that at the end of it all, he will be allowed to chase the winners to his heart’s content. Now, he must stay silent. Able Ally’s ears cock back and forth as he listens for danger. And I watch it all happen. Keeping pace with them as they move would have been impossible so I position myself at the top from where I have a panoramic view and wait for the action to begin.
The other troop – Lowlifes – are in the cashew trees stuffing their faces, literally. They pick the fruit and stuff it into their cheek pouches to be eaten in safety at leisure. They got there early and so have that advantage. There is always a sentry/lookout. But today, he seems to be distracted between watching me and Hooch and his companions eating their fill. Normally the sentry is never ignored. One of the others, having eaten his fill, voluntarily takes his place. But today it seems they are a bit tardy in this and the sentry is getting anxious that he may lose out on his turn to feed. The breeze is blowing downhill, which means that Lowlifes can’t smell their enemy’s approach. They must rely on the vigilance of their sentry, which for the aforementioned reasons was not at its peak that day. Suited Armiyaana Korangugal perfectly. A distracted enemy is the best enemy.
The leader halts just below the top where the orchard of my bungalow begins. The others gather around him. As far as I can see, the shock troops are the males and the females without babies. Nursing mothers with babies clinging to their bellies are in the reserve and may never join battle. Now things are moving fast. Still total silence. There is complete understanding between them. Is this some sort of telepathic communication or is it experience of many such battles, where soldiers are so well drilled that they don’t need to be told what to do? Sorry, never having been a monkey myself, I can’t answer that. Your guess is as good as mine.
Then on an unspoken command, all hell breaks loose. Screaming blue murder at the top of their voices, the Armiyaana Korangugal charge. It seems to me that the soldiers have marked trees for themselves. They don’t all head for the same tree. Groups of three or four go for each tree which has the Lowlifes in it. The idea is to scare the others out and away. Not to kill or injure anyone. All animal conflicts operate on this principle, of avoiding contact as much as possible. The danger of injury is very real and can be fatal. But if posturing can clear the competition out of the area, that is best. The more well-armed the animal, the less it will make physical contact in a fight. The only exception is fights between males over a female, which can sometimes end in the death of both contestants. But then an excess of testosterone leads to suspension of brain function and is replaced by organs lower down in the anatomy ruling the brain. I am sure we men are all familiar with this syndrome sometime in our lives and now recall that experience with sheepish grins. At least we live to tell the tale. In the wild, that luxury is not always afforded. So, contact is avoided and substituted with a lot of bluster and posturing and mock charges; sometimes with minimal contact, but no locked struggles to delete one another.
To return to our story, there’s total cacophony. Just listening to the screaming you couldn’t be faulted for imagining that multiple individuals were being slaughtered with blunt knives. Everyone is screaming, shaking the branches of the trees violently, unwilling to let go of their well-earned advantage of the early mover. But hunger is the best motivator. The newcomers are hungry. The early movers have eaten. The newcomers know that if they don’t succeed, there will not be anything left for them. They are desperate. Their stakes are higher. That is a winning combination, in business. Even in monkey business. If you want to succeed, get desperate about it. What looks like a stalemate, breaks. First the females with young, then the males fighting a rearguard action, drop to the ground and lope off. Content with what they have taken. Armiyaana Korangugal have triumphed. Until next time.