We think of ourselves as animal friendly. Peta tends to err toward the side of “animal rights activism”. But our new home in Dalawella, Sri Lanka, is forcing us to consider what our views are to specific members of the animal kingdom. From a broad ‘love all animals’ perspective to a more prudent reclassification of our animal neighbors into “friends” and “foes”.
Most, to be sure, are “friends”. But… there are “foes” too…
Here is where we stand with our animal kingdom, after a few weeks in our new home.
(Note: uncharacteristically, the photographs in this post are not our own).
Monkeys ~ friends, obviously
It is nothing short of joyous to see a pack/group of monkeys play over head amongst the tree~tops. We previously reported being welcomed by a family of white crowned, mostly black monkeys. Well, today we get to discover a new species, while taking a walk in our neighborhood. This group of primates has a bright orange, cool haircut, not quite the ‘you know who, don’t want his name in our blog’ look, but going in that direction. Also has a super long tail with a little white tuft at the end.
Turns out that this is a Purple-faced Langur, which is on the endangered species list. There are 5 or 6 of them playing together, jumping from tree to tree. Definitely in the friends category.
Birds ~ positively friends
We are richly rewarded for choosing a home nearby the rice fields that, after the rains, become a veritable smorgasbord of delectables for a large contingent of white, elegant cattle egrets.
These primary residents / frequent visitors to our own tiny “bird park” are not the only diners to feast on the just-turned earth of the rice paddy… There are also beautiful grey/white/black visitors ~ not large in numbers, but regularly seen ~ Red-wattled Lapwings. Their call sounds like “did-he-do-it”.
And occasionally, we get a colorful flash of bright jewel tones, courtesy of the neighborhood’s Kingfishers…
Bats ~ friends
While bats get a bad rap, at least in the West, we learned to appreciate the value of bats in Nicaragua. Bats do a wonderful job at keeping the population of mosquitoes under control and are actually very intelligent creatures. On our way home from yoga at the nearby Yoga Shala, at dusk, we pass underneath a large tree with what we initially think are birds, making quite a racket, until we recognize the flight pattern…. These are definitely bats! The bats here are much larger than in Nicaragua, with a wing span that seems to be about 2 feet.
Nothing to fear from bats… very much in the “friends” category
Insects ~ mostly foes.
At best we might be indifferent… the cool looking black and yellow dotted centipede does not bother us. Ants, though individually not threatening, become foes the moment they form a column that marches across our living room. And by column, we mean a thick boulevard of thousands (hundreds of thousands?) of black ants. We are currently playing a game of “if you left it out, it’s fair game”, with the neighborhood ants. And they are definitely winning. Forcing us to up our game, in terms of being meticulous about leaving any food out of the fridge.
So, not a fabulous sight to see a military parade of ants crossing up this wall, down the next, across our floor, on its way to the windows… But does that make them foes? Well yes, because these tiny ants are actually a close cousin of the Pyrhana! These @#$%^&* ants really hurt when they bite. On the left side of the ring, a rather healthy looking caucasian male over 6′ tall, on the other side of the ring, a small ant a 1/10th of his finger nail. The ant wins every time, sending Ben into a scratching fury.
And these are the black ants. There are also much larger, much more lethal red ants. These we have seen, but have not had first hand encounter with, as of yet. Not looking forward to it either.
Then there are spiders. Now, this is one of those insects that trigger an automatic response. For my part (Ben), no big deal. I mean, I don’t relish the thought of spiders crawling over me while I am sleeping, but if I see a small one on the wall, it’s not going to raise my temperature.
A quick look at exactly what the ‘spider situation’ is in Sri Lanka, leads us to the discovery that ahem… the small black ones are the least of our problems. We have not encountered, and hope never to encounter, the more exotic Sri Lankan spider. Brightly colored, they are pretty cool looking, but still, would hate to come face to face.
The problem of course is not the ants, nor the regular spiders, which we recognize and at least have some prior experience with. The problem is “the others”. Let’s just say that we will get a full education on the “insects of Sri Lanka”. These are not so lovingly referred to by Peta as “jojos” ~ the J pronounced like “Jose” in spanish. These “jojos” reach back to Peta’s South African childhood and, let’s just say that there has not been one reference to jojos to date that has a positive association. Usually the word “Jojo” is accompanied by a high pitched scream or a carefully calibrated, solemn, soft voice that says, ” Ben, I need you to come here, NOW”…
It is thus my job to deal with undesirable jojos. And it turns out that there is a whole universe of jojos I have never seen or conceptualized. Last night’s crop included a cool looking mini-dinosaur, maybe the size of a baby toe… it was bright red or brown, shiny, and fast moving. At least it didn’t fly. Luckily we don’t both react with fear at the sight of jojos, so as long as I am around, Peta is safe…
Rodents ~ friends
The cutest ambassadors to the rodent family are the frequent chipmunks that jump from tree to tree and seem to like dashing over the full length of our bathroom wall. No problems with these guys…
Tempting to classify the mongoose as a rodent, as it kind of looks like one. But in fact a mongoose is a member of a family of small cat like carnivores, the Herpestidae. Whatever they are, we have seen a few of them while we are walking around. Maybe it is due to French childhood fables, but I associate mongoose with their mortal enemy, the cobra. If there are mongoose, does it mean there are cobras around? Haven’t seen one yet, hoping not to see one ever. But we do hear that there are occasional python sightings. “Not very often” one of our neighbors assures us. OK, we are on the look out for pythons and hope, again, to never see one. But all things considered, a mongoose must be in the friend category.
It is worth nothing as a couple that some animals are for Ben (raised in France) in an exotic category, whereas the same animal to Peta might be rather mundane. Such is the case of the mongoose ~ an animal very familiar to Peta, as she saw many of these on the hillside in Johannesburg, South Africa, where she grew up.
And then, there are reptiles – definitely foes
I guess one never knows how one feels about reptiles until one confronts one, or two, or many… We had cute little geckos in Nicaragua and the extent of our relationship was around enjoying their ‘tuk tuk’ sounds.
But Sri Lanka is an entirely different game. We are talking “big game” reptiles here. We already indicated in a prior post that we discovered the Monitor Lizard. This 4-6 foot long grey creature was already intimidating enough to some of us!
Turns out that the 6 foot long monitor lizard has a much more ominous looking, much larger cousin, the Water Monitor or Rice Lizard.
We almost ran right into one ~ In a flash, a large dark brown and orange creature very abruptly dashed across the road RIGHT in front of our motorbike, when we were on the way to the local temple. Peta freaked. He was literally inches from us and we almost smashed right into him.
Now let’s be frank, this one is fucking scary looking! It is about 9-10 feet long as an adult. It is supposed to be a “water” monitor, but is not adverse to taking jaunts across the streets.
The water monitor is a large lizard native to South and South East Asia. They defend themselves using their tails, claws and jaws. They are excellent swimmers, using the raised fin on their tails to steer through water. They are carnivores and consume a wide range of pray such as fish, frogs, birds, rodents, crabs and snakes.
Lets just say that the next day when Peta was deciding whether or not to join me on my business trip to Colombo, the thought of encountering a water lizard by herself, was enough to help her make a very quick decision. Colombo here we come….
Before we cast off all lizards as these scary as hell characters, we would be remiss if we didn’t provide “fair and balanced” reporting. There are in fact in Sri Lanka, a whole bunch of gorgeous looking, “not going to eat you for lunch” lizards. We haven’t seen any of these less scary but very exotic lizards, yet it is worth noting that they are around. Perhaps if we think of the monitor monsters as merely larger and uglier than these cute colorful creatures, they will become less ominous.
For now… lizards will stay in the “foe” category.