World Travel Wednesday: The Elderly Coati

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A few years ago, I was hiking in the Amazon Rainforest in Brazil with my friend, Swamp. We were a few miles in, enjoying the sounds of howler monkeys, macaws, and countless insects chirping. We’d been on the lookout for interesting wildlife. Swamp was dying to see a sloth or a jaguar. I was hoping if we did, it would be at a good distance and would not notice us. We were chatting happily, and Swamp was blissfully machete-ing a path ahead of us, when suddenly he stopped swinging his blade and said, “Shh! Listen!” I held my breath and listened hard. An animal sound — a slow, repetitive cry of some sort — was steadily moving towards us from some distance away. I whispered, “Jaguar?” Swamp shook his head without turning his eyes away from the sea of green and whispered back, “I don’t think so. Be still.”

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The sound continued for a few minutes, off and on. We could tell it was moving. Sometimes it sounded closer to us than other times. Finally, we heard leaves being tramped across, about twenty feet away. A medium-sized brown animal (about the size of a large dog) with a pointy snout crossed in front of us, holding its long, striped tail vertically. It was still making the repeated cry but not looking in our direction. Once it had passed and disappeared into the trees, I said, “What was that?” Swamp said, “I’m not really sure.” Foolishly, I thought to myself, “We discovered a new species!” Because if it was a species known to man, I figured Swamp would be able to identify it, being something of an expert on tropical ecology.

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We continued on our hike. Swamp went back to machete-ing. When we got back to our lodgings that night, we sat down with an animal encyclopedia and a few candles, trying to indentify the mysterious creature we had seen. As it turns out, we had not discovered a new species at all. We had seen a coati, which is in the racoon family, only much larger. They normally travel in groups, except for the older ones. Since we had seen only one, we figured it must have been elderly, probably male (because they are larger) and possibly on its way back to the troop and crying out to signal the others that there were unidentified creatures in the vicinity.

I’ll never forget encountering a species I didn’t even know existed, in its wild, native habitat. We actually interacted with a wild animal, rather than staring passively at a sad, captive being across a walled moat. It was aware of us, and it let us know that, and it let the group know that, all without being threatening. Three cheers for coexistence.

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1 Comment

  1. grantmasterflash said,

    February 20, 2009 at 1:48 pm

    very cool


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