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When anybody sees a proboscis monkey in the wild for the first time, they are staggered. Not uncommonly, they make a remark such as "I don't believe that animal!". Even seeing them in zoos is not enough to be prepared for seeing these extraordinary animals in their natural habitat, with all the noise and spectacle involved.
Proboscis monkeys have been making spectacular first impressions on people for a long time. Early naturalists could not agree, though, whether the animals were amazingly wonderful or amazingly grotesque. One of the earliest reports of proboscis monkeys in the wild came from British officer Hugh Low. As long ago as 1848, he said that the proboscis monkey "is remarkable for its very long nose; it is a very fine monkey, in size approaching the orang-utan, but much less disgusting in appearance". Another early explorer-naturalist, Odoardo Beccari, obviously had somewhat mixed feelings about the animals. On the one hand, he said that "the long-nosed ape is of singular and ridiculous aspect", but went on "Why amongst all apes…this one should be provided with a long, prominent and fleshy nose, somewhat hooked at its extremity, it is hard to say. According to Darwinian theory, it might possibly be attributed to sexual selection. If such were the case, we might, perhaps, congratulate the monkey on its good taste".
The calls of the proboscis monkey were also a subject of praise. In 1928, the then curator of the Sarawak Museum, Eric Mjoberg, wrote that "the enormous nose is a sounding board that strengthens and deepens the male's vocal powers….The sound is deep and nasal, strongly reminiscent of the bass viol. Possibly, too, there is some aesthetic touch in it, for the females find the sound attractive and crowd round their musically gifted leader".
These early observers were not always so enthusiastic. Low went on to say of the proboscis monkey, "his appearance is highly ludicrous, he rejoices in a pendulous fleshy nose which droops at the end almost over his mouth. This appendage has no apparent use, and is not even decorative". After he had complimented the monkey's calls, Mjoberg wrote that its nose "puts even the most exaggerated and splendid Bourbon nose into the shade. It is a bright red, fleshy appendage….that projects far above the mouth and partly blocks its entrance. When the owner in question has to satisfy his stomach's insistent demands, his pushes his 'stop-cock' to one side with his hand, a most comical proceeding". One of Mjoberg's successors as Curator of the Sarawak Museum, the well-known Tom Harrisson, referred in 1938 to "the vile porty-looking proboscis monkey", and as late as 1965, a paper was written by the American J.A. Kern entitled "Grotesque honker of the Bornean swamps".
So what is the animal that produces such strong but conflicting reactions really like? And what is it about the animal that causes such comment? This short book introduces you to proboscis monkeys by telling you about them and their behaviour. It also includes discussion about the problems facing them, their conservation and future prospects. It concludes with a short guide to where you can easily see them and how to get there.
- First Impressions 1
- What are Proboscis Monkeys? 3
- Where are Proboscis Monkeys Found? 7
- Bornean Reserves where Proboscis Monkeys are Found 15
- Distribution of Proboscis Monkeys 17
- The Social Life of Proboscis Monkeys 19
- Big Noses 31
- Large Stomachs, Their Uses and Hazards 33
- Travel — Proboscis Monkeys on the Move 37
- Natural Predators of Proboscis Monkeys 43
- A Day in the Life of a Proboscis Monkey 45
- Proboscis Monkeys in Captivity 53
- Proboscis Monkeys and the Future 57
- Valuable Mangroves 60
- Seeing Proboscis Monkeys in Borneo 65
- Acknowledgements 73
- Suggested Further Reading 74
- Scientific Names of Animals and Plants 75
- Glossary of Terms Used 77
- Index 80