I discover a galago's lair.—Capture of the galago.—Two baby galagos.
One afternoon, after thinking over all these things, I went all alone into the forest, for I was tired of the noise of the people, and wanted to reflect seriously upon my future movements. Suddenly, while walking slowly along, I came to the foot of a tree, which at once attracted my attention, so that I stopped to examine it. It was old, not very tall, but thick in the trunk, and full of knots. A great many dead branches of other trees had fallen upon it, and these were so thick that they prevented the light from penetrating below. It is upon such trees and in their hollows that night-animals generally retire for the day, for it is almost dark as night in its thick recesses. So, thinking that perhaps I should find some new species of night-animal hidden in such a collection of dead and broken limbs, I stooped, and tried to peer into that dense and tangled mass. First I tried to see if there were any snakes hidden there, for snakes are fond of such places. Not a snake could be seen; but then some of them are not discovered so easily, for they are of the same color as the dead branches, and among those which have this color there are some very venomous species. Nor could I discover any traces of wild cats.
Suddenly it struck me that just where the branches parted from the main trunk the bark seemed somewhat more shining, as if some little wild animal was in the habit of climbing every day to the same spot. I looked carefully in that direction, but nothing was to be seen. There must be, certainly, a hole in the tree, I thought. Just by that tree hung a big creeper, as big as a large rope, strong enough to hold the mast of a ship, and by climbing it I could just go up and get to the top of the tree. I felt that I must ascend; but, before doing it, I took again a sharp look, for I did not care at all to put my hand on a shining snake, or to have one drop down upon me. To make still more sure, I threw up a piece of wood into the thickest part of the branches. After waiting a little while, and seeing that nothing stirred, I prepared myself to ascend. My gun was bothering me. It seemed as if I could not possibly ascend with it, even after strapping it on my shoulder, and yet I did not care to leave it at the foot of the tree, for in these forests you have to look out sharp, as you do not know when your enemies may be near. It is true, I had my revolvers on my side, and, after some hesitation, I concluded to try, any how. The distance was not more than ten feet, and the thick rope of creepers made the ascent tolerably easy.
Before ascending, I looked all round to see that no savage was lurking near, and then began to climb up. It was rather hard work, after all, in despite of the support the thick creeper afforded me. I could not make up my mind to leave my gun behind, and it annoyed me a great deal by getting entangled in the branches, and my revolvers hung heavily from my belt; but I was bound to go up and see what was there. The hope of discovering some animal unknown to naturalists gave me strength to do things which in my ordinary moments I thought myself incapable of achieving.
At last I reached the forked part of the tree, and found I was not mistaken. A hollow was there, and by the appearance of the opening there was no doubt but that some little wild animal must make it its hiding place.
Now came the rub. The idea of putting my hand inside of that dark hole was not very pleasant, for I did not know what kind of creature might be hiding there. No doubt it had four good canines which might go through my hands as if they were paper. I confess I did not relish the thought. How was it that I did not think of this before I ascended the tree? I was in a sad quandary, and did not know what to do. Now that I had reached the part of the tree where I wanted to be, after so much trouble, I did not care to go down and have taken the trouble for nothing; besides, who knew whether some pretty and unknown animal might not be hiding there. This last idea gave me courage, and I immediately sought in my head the best means either to capture or kill the animal. First I took from my belt one of my revolvers, and then looked down carefully into the hole to see if I could perceive the bottom of it, and thus discover what was there. Suddenly I perceived two big, bright red eyes, which seemed to send fire at me. It must be a galago, I thought. These little fellows have sharp little teeth, and can bite splendidly, and make you feel that they can hurt you. But I must try to capture instead of killing it, and then try to tame it and study its habits.
The hollow was only about fifteen inches deep. I was all alone, and I wished I had somebody with me, then we could have managed it more easily.
I immediately put my foot on the opening of the lair of the galago so that he could not escape, then taking from the inside of my hat two pocket-handkerchiefs which I used to protect my head from the heat of the sun when I was under its rays, I put them round my hand, so that when I tied the little fellow fast his teeth would not go through.
Not far from me there was a little branch from which I could cut a nice little forked stick. Taking the big hunting-knife that hung in my belt, I cut the branch. It was just the thing I wanted. If I could put the fork on its neck, then I could with the other hand manage more safely the taking of the little fellow out of his lair, for no doubt he would make a desperate struggle.
So I took off my foot from the opening, and down went my forked stick; the little fellow whisked about in a lively manner, but soon he was caught, and began to cut up such capers with his hind legs, and tried so hard to get away, that I did not know if I should ever be able to handle it. But, putting my other arm down into the hole, I took a firm grip of the fellow by the neck, and I can assure you that I held him hard, for I had not much confidence in the wrapping of my hand, and I was dreadfully afraid I would get a bite from the little rascal, and be obliged to let go my hold. I got it safely out at last, though it made efforts to get away, and seized both of my shirt-sleeves with its little paws. But I held it firmly, and then perceived it was a female, and that she had young ones. Immediately I opened the bag where I kept my bullets, and in it I put the galago, and shut it again. Then once more I put in my hand, and soon brought up two very tiny little fellows. They were very pretty, with their soft, beautiful fur; but I was a little sorry they were so very young, as they would be harder to raise.
I descended the tree, delighted with my day's work, and started at once for the village with my capture. On arriving at home I immediately fixed a kind of cage, and put the galago and her young in it. This was merely a temporary arrangement, and my first care was to construct a permanent home for my new pets. Meanwhile I kept them in a box. Their house was quite ready for them the next day, and they seemed quite pleased with the change. I wanted especially to take great care of the little ones, in the hopes of taming them. But three days after their capture they died. The poor mother seemed very forlorn and lonely afterward. How forlorn her mate must have been when, on his return to the tree, he found his home deserted! He must have wandered all that night in search of her and of his young ones, or perhaps he knew at once that some perfidious enemy had despoiled his house.
Now all my hopes rested on the old one. For the first few days she would only eat at night, and her food was chiefly ripe plantains and bananas, and a few berries from the forest. Afterward she began to eat in the day-time, and would even take food from my hands. She was particularly fond of bananas. Then I made a little collar and put it round her neck, and tied her by a long string near my bed. She would keep awake the whole night, and make a desperate war on the roaches and other insects. The broad daylight seemed to hurt her eyes, and she would shut them up; but at night was quite another animal, and much more lively. One evening, by a very dim light, I watched her, and saw how quickly she would seize the roaches. She was so light-footed that she could not be heard.
Now I must give you a description of the galago. I must tell you that the animal possesses one of the softest furs I know. The natives use its skin to keep their powdered fetiches in. Its face is full of expression, the eyes being very large for the little head; the ears are almost transparent, the skin being very thin, stand upright, and are large for the size of the head. The eyes shine brightly, and during the day have a reddish appearance. Like all night-animals, they can see much better in the dark than in the daytime. The tail is somewhat bushy.
The picture of a galago will give you an excellent idea of what the animal is like. A large specimen is of the size of a little puny cat.
The galago being a nocturnal animal, as soon as darkness makes its appearance, it prepares itself to go out of its lair in search of food. It loves to feed upon insects, such as cockroaches, etc.; but, besides insects, it feeds on the fruits, berries, and nuts of the forest. Long before daylight it retires to its lair, and remains there during the whole day. It climbs about on trees from branch to branch like a monkey, and uses its fore feet like hands, as the monkey does, only it is far from being as agile as a monkey.
One fine morning I looked for the little galago, but she was not to be found. The string that held her had broken during the night, and she had skedaddled for parts unknown in the forest. I have often thought that if the galagos have a language of their own, my prisoner will have strange tales to tell of her captivity, and the only thing I could do after her flight was to wish that she might be happy once more in the woods, and that she might find her mate again.