Out in the Open

The other day, a coworker and I were walking along a pasture, short-cutting between potential monkey sites. I happened to glance ahead, and caught a dark flash of movement ahead. When it emerged from tall grass, I saw it had an unmistakable profile: cat. Head low, ears back, slinking along with swaying tail out. Dark brown, about a meter long, but the ridiculously long tail gave it away: jaguarundi. The largest small cat, or the smallest large cat, depending on who you ask.

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Usually I don’t waste my time on cat pictures on the internet, but I’ll make an exception.

We froze as it walked along, oblivious. It wasn’t until it was about thirty meters away and turned to face us directly that it finally noticed us, an obvious embarrassment among predators. When it did, it’s ears went up, it’s mouth dropped open, and it stared, frozen for about ten full seconds before loping off. I caught one last image of it in the air like a hood ornament before it disappeared into the brush. My first ever wild cat photo!

The irony of this is that jaguarundi, or rather all cats–hell, all wildlife in general–tend to be shy and rarely seen even in remote, pristine wilderness. We caught this one out in the open, in an artificial, anthropogenic area. A cattle field, for god’s sake! I spend hundreds of fruitless hours in the forest, camera at the ready, and this thing appears in broad daylight in a pasture?

Another incident: we were staking out a popular monkey food site in a power cut, a wide swath of bare dirt cleared and sprayed with herbicide for power lines. I sat there in the pouring rain when suddenly a frog hopped by down the length of the cut at full speed pursued by a snake, slithering after it. It was over before I could even process what I was seeing, and both soon vanished into tall cane. I really regret not taking a photo. It was like a Yakkity Sax opener.

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I have never seen a frog move that fast.

My question is why do I tend to see the best stuff in open, human-impacted areas and not the natural forest? Is it simply the openness? Better line of site? Are these rare gems of biology and absurdist comedy always there, just hidden out of site, and my poor human senses are subject to sampling bias?

A few weeks back I watched a monkey deliberately drop a mango on a horse to startle it into kicking its friend and starting a stampede. Comedy gold! Are monkeys always up to such jackassery, and I only get to see it when there’s a decent view?

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The answer to that last one is yes, definitely, yes.

Just what else is this forest hiding?

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