As if in meditation, she sat on that gnarled mangrove branch with her head bowed, the chin almost reaching the top of her infant’s head. A sudden twitch and she pulled the baby closer to her chest, perhaps hoping that the throbbing of the heart would keep her from waking up. But, she was still sleeping. Or, at least, her eyes were closed. Then, the infant grasped the skin of her left breast, mouth closing in on the nipple, milking even more every square inch of the flesh that nursed an infant almost every year since her menarche.
About a foot away from the mother’s curved back, a juvenile curled on a horizontal branch made shiny by the constant rubbing of skin on bark. He looked comfortable: his head rested on crossed arms, legs hung limp, and the mouth slightly opened. He blended well with the earth-colored branches. It was a perfect resting spot–the branches descended to the ground like overgrown athritic fingers and the leaves were green, sometimes yellow, refracting the sun’s rays as stained glasses would.
The mother must be around 12, in her middle years if she was human. A few weeks from now, she will be pregnant again. Her face got the mask of estrous–swollen with blotches of crimson, like an embossed Cold War-era map. The back of her legs and the buttocks were swollen and deep red too, obvious signals for sexual receptivity. The males at this time hover around her–stalking and observing who she is with. Many times, higher ranking males chase her around if seen mating or in proximity with a low-ranking male. She would try to escape, shrieking and running; and if she is slower, the male’s inch-long canines would dig into her skin, sometimes ripping through her flesh. If she has enough females close to her (i.e., friends and relatives), then she has a better chance of escaping–the females in a series of feints and dashes will try to intimidate the attacking male, giving her space for a getaway.
Despite all the guarding that high-ranking males do however, researchers have found out that “male dominance rank was not associated with reproductive success” (Berard et al 1993). The study by Berard et al revealed that,
High-ranking resident males (N=5) sired 27% of the infants born during a one-year study. Four of the 11 infants of known paternity were sired by males of other social groups. The four infants of unknown paternity were sired either by males not observed mating with the females or the low-ranking male who was not fingerprinted.
Rhesus females also prefer novel males for mating. This female mate selection is thought to be one of the primary factors why males migrate out of their natal group. The migrating males, who are at the very bottom of the hierarchy, have to be in constant high alert, especially so during the mating season when high ranking males are on guard (i.e., those who are on top are particularly protective of their position on this period).
Only a few survive the ordeal and get accepted to the receiving group. Many of these migrating males prefer to hang out with the other males (an all-boys gang, so to speak), living on the fringes of macaque society (e.g., they only get to eat when the established groups are done and gone). They occasionally sneak into the group for a quick rump with the females but, if found, they get chased by everyone and quite a few have been seen jumping off from cliffs or to the water for dear life.
So, I sat there thinking about these while staring at the sleeping monkeys. These brood of three, motionless except for an occasional scratch or the movement of their bellies as they breathe, will wake up soon. In a little while, a male monkey will sneak in. And again, all hell will break loose.