A Chimpanzee Hunt



An 1870 entry in the journal of the Victorian explorer David Livingstone contains this interesting remark:
The soko kills the leopard occasionally, by seizing both paws, and biting them so as to disable them, he then goes up a tree, groans over his wounds, and sometimes recovers, while the leopard dies: at other times, both soko and leopard die.
The "soko" he's talking about is the animal now known as the chimpanzee. In recent years, pet chimps have bitten the hands or fingers off several Americans, including a Connecticut woman earlier this year. This behavior would seem to be a way of disabling the claws of enemies.

The picture is from Livingstone's Last Journals. It shows a hunt he witnessed, in which the local people killed four chimps. Here's his account:
An extensive grass-burning forced them out of their usual haunt, and coming on the plain they were speared. They often go erect, but place the hand on the head, as if to steady the body. When seen thus, the soko is an ungainly beast. The most sentimental young lady would not call him a "dear," but a bandy-legged, pot-bellied, low-looking villain, without a particle of the gentleman in him. Other animals, especially the antelopes, are graceful, and it is pleasant to see them, either at rest or in motion: the natives also are well made, lithe and comely to behold, but the soko, if large, would do well to stand for a picture of the Devil.

He takes away my appetite by his disgusting bestiality of appearance. His light-yellow face shows off his ugly whiskers, and faint apology for a beard; the forehead villainously low, with high ears, is well in the back-ground of the great dog-mouth; the teeth are slightly human, but the canines show the beast by their large development. The hands, or rather the fingers, are like those of the natives. The flesh of the feet is yellow, and the eagerness with which the Manyuema [the local people] devour it leaves the impression that eating sokos was the first stage by which they arrived at being cannibals; they say the flesh is delicious. The soko is represented by some to be extremely knowing, successfully stalking men and women while at their work, kidnapping children, and running up trees with them--he seems to be amused by the sight of the young native in his arms, but comes down when tempted by a bunch of bananas, and as he lifts that, drops the child: the young soko in such a case would cling closely to the armpit of the elder. One man was cutting out honey from a tree, and naked, when a soko suddenly appeared and caught him, then let him go: another man was hunting, and missed in his attempt to stab a soko: it seized the spear and broke it, then grappled with the man, who called to his companions, "Soko has caught me," the soko bit off the ends of his fingers and escaped unharmed. Both men are now alive at Bambarré.

The soko is so cunning, and has such sharp eyes, that no one can stalk him in front without being seen, hence, when shot, it is always in the back; when surrounded by men and nets, he is generally speared in the back too, otherwise he is not a very formidable beast: he is nothing, as compared in power of damaging his assailant, to a leopard or lion, but is more like a man unarmed, for it does not occur to him to use his canine teeth, which are long and formidable. Numbers of them come down in the forest, within a hundred yards of our camp, and would be unknown but for giving tongue like fox-hounds: this is their nearest approach to speech. A man hoeing was stalked by a soko, and seized; he roared out, but the soko giggled and grinned, and left him as if he had done it in play. A child caught up by a soko is often abused by being pinched and scratched, and let fall.

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