Persecuted by a gorilla, undressed by an orangutan, bitten by a vampire … Even one of the rarest birds in the world, the New Zealand kakapo, of which only 131 individuals are known, "tried to make love with my hair". There is no doubt that the American Sy Montgomery (1958), baptized as a cross between Indiana Jones and Emily Dickinson, author of a score of books, including those two wonderful novelties now in Spain that are The spell of the tiger (Errata Naturae) and The soul of the octopuses (Seix Barral), and considered one of the greatest exponents of the genre so in vogue nature writing, writing nature with a literary vocation, has experienced exceptional things.
Let's start with the orangutan. "It was in Borneo, where I traveled on the occasion of my book Walking with the Great Apes, about the studious women of the great primates, to talk to Biruté Galdikas, the great expert in orangutans. I left the camp to take a bath, I was wearing a dress. They, the orangutans were always very interested when we were going to bathe: they eat the soap and drink the shampoo. One came and with amazing skill I unzipped the dress. I stayed very still, interested in seeing what he intended. He pulled the dress carefully over my head and put it on. Then he left for the jungle. "
Montgomery, a friendly and easy-to-laugh woman with a natural inclination, and worth the word, to poetry, who visited Barcelona last week to participate in literary festival Liternatura, Go to the next story. "I was investigating for the same book in the jungle of Zaire, now Congo, when I saw a man appear running towards me with a panic. It passed me at full speed, and behind me was a gorilla, a huge male with a silver back, enraged. That man did not know how to behave, I did. The male gorillas do not look them in the face, and never run before them. What you have to do if you find one is to look at the ground, bow as before a king. I did it. He began to beat his chest, then returned to all four legs and turned around and left. I went after him, and I met his family. "
And the vampire? "I was on an expedition in Costa Rica with bat specialists. We put nets to catch them and examine them. One bit me, it was a vampire. Who can blame him? It does not hurt, your saliva possesses a natural anesthetic and an anticoagulant for blood to flow. They are altruistic, they share the blood with their relatives. Even vampires have something to teach us! " Stories all with a good ending. There will also have been bad moments. "Well, I've had dengue. Once I was awakened by a hyena we were transporting in an SUV sleeping in my lap. I have been scared in Southeast Asia by the unexploded mines and the bandits. And when I started researching for The spell of the tiger, in the Sundarbans, the marshes of the Gulf of Bengal, between India and Bangladesh, the kingdom of the tigers devourers of men, the fatal pass. The Indian scientist who had to accompany me and act as translator did not appear. I went to the end in a boat with some fishermen I did not understand, towards the tigers. It was very hard, but in the end it was great, I made very good friends. I lived incredible things. I met people who had eaten a relative a tiger, curiously they did not hold a grudge against the animal or hated it, even venerated it. "
In the Sundarbans, the black jungle, legendary territory in which Salgari placed the den of Tremal-Naik, an ally of Sandokan, the tigers hunt down human beings – who try to protect themselves by putting the famous masks on their necks – even swimming and getting on the boats. Montgomery explains that they eat mostly men, who are the ones who enter their domains. "Women are eaten by crocodiles when they wash their clothes or take the children to bathe." The good news – if you do not live there – is that the tigers thrive in the Sundarbans. "There has been an increase in their number, which gives hope for these wonderful animals." They eat people, that is at least criticizable. "They do not normally, if we were their usual prey, 24,000 Indians would die each year. It seems that they got used to it by the semicremated, crunchy remains that reach them by the river. " The writer remembers that the great hunters classics of devourers of men like Kenneth Anderson and Jim Corbett (of which, by the way, Ediciones del Bronce has just published its essential The wisdom of the jungle) showed that these killer tigers are usually sick or damaged animals.
Is the tiger your favorite animal? "No, they are the most fascinating, with their flame clothing that Blake would say, and they have a magical aura, but my favorite is my dog. Currently a three-year border collie. From the first he took the ashes here. " The writer shows a hollow metal bracelet on her left wrist. On the right there is another one that looks like Masai. "It's Himba, from Namibia. I was with a wildebeest specialist. "
How did your interest in animals begin? "Before talk. When I was two years old, my parents got distracted by a visit to the zoo in Frankfurt (the city where I was born) and they found me in the hippopotamus enclosure ". He could have died, they are very dangerous. "Yes, but I think they knew I was a puppy. My mother had a hard time getting over the scare. However, I have never been afraid of animals, not even poisonous snakes. I do not want to step on one, of course, but I'm not afraid of them; instead I have it to the mines. Snakes always try to avoid you. " When the one who signs these lines tells him that he has one, Montgomery looks at him with renewed interest. "Wow, and he knows you?" It's hard to say, the other day he bit me. "It's easy to get infected. The fear of snakes is deeply rooted in humans, it is a legacy of our ape past, like the fear of falling, of when we were arboreal. That feeling of when you fall asleep and you wake up suddenly startled comes from there. " The writer has been in a pit with 18,000 snakes, which is already startling and there it did not get or Indy. "They were harmless snakes, they were coming out of hibernation in a burrow in Alberta. They climbed on me looking for the sun and the heat of my body, they got into my sleeves. To many it will seem a nightmare, but it was very exciting ".
About the Indiana Jones mix with Emily Dickinson -We would have to add Gerald Durrell- she says she feels very honored. "I'm not as adventurous as Professor Jones, but I have a special affinity with Dickinson's poetry. In general, I perceive the poetry of nature, if you look at it carefully it is not difficult to feel it ". Among her influences as a writer about the natural world she cites, of course, Born free -the story of the lioness Elsa-; Farley Mowat, the author of Never Cry Wolfe; to Jane Goodall, to the Dian Fossey's Gorillas in the Mist… "I visited her cabin shortly after she was killed with a machete, there were still bloodstains on the carpet and her breath on party balloons that had swollen."
"Once I described a friend on a train to Boston by his cell phone the sex of the octopuses and when he had hung up in the car there had been total silence"
Sy Montgomery, who lives like a modern Thoreau in Hancock, New Hampshire, has managed to get octopus accepted as a pet. It blinks when hearing the phrase of the popular televising announcement of the Scattergories table game. But it is true that in the US there are people who want to adopt an octopus as a pet after reading their amazing book about those octopods. "They are individuals with personality, who think, and feel, it is proven that they recognize our faces and continue with their eyes when you point them at something; They are very intelligent, they use tools, they love to play with the same toys that children do, Lego, for example. " Is not there much anthropomorphism in our current view of animals? "We project our feelings on other people, it is easy for us to do so also on animals. But the real mistake is to underestimate them. To think that they have no memory, that they can not reason. They have emotions, although in a different way. It is logical that they are different; Try to put your penis in my nose … " I would not dare. "Well, that's how an octopus makes love. The male has the ligule, the sexual organ, in a tentacle, and places it not between the legs of the female (which is where the beak is), but in an opening in the mantle, in the head. Once I described it to a friend by cell phone on a train to Boston and when hanging in the car there was total silence, everybody listened in amazement ". Sex is rare in the sea. "Aha, do you know about snails and their love darts? And some fish come together so closely that they literally merge with the couple. The ocean has so many ideas that we have not thought … But not only, look at the sexual organ of the female hyenas, that pseudopene for which they copulate, urinate and give birth, like giving birth to a straw … I would not like it " .
Apart from their sex, it is rare that octopuses are so smart because they live very little and are not social. "Right, four years is already a lot for them and when you meet them they are adults. It's very sad, friendship with them ends soon. They are probably so smart because they are tasty, everyone in the ocean wants to eat them, even they are cannibals themselves (we observed a female who ate a male after mating twelve times, at 13 maybe something bothered her, or it opened the appetite), and they have no defense, they do not have a shell, they lost it. The same factor of avoiding being eaten in the savanna, among others, made us smart. " About the zoos, Sy Montgomery says that depending on the conditions and the kind of animals they can be a good or terrible experience. "It is difficult to make life interesting in a small space for a feline or an elephant, but for an octopus, which awaits an atrocious destination, that you guarantee life and food is a bicoca. The luckiest octopus is the one that has time to reproduce, and the second, the one that lives in an aquarium. Many animals that have a low rank in their group, lack territory and are subject to predators can also live better in captivity than free. It depends on how you treat them. "
In any case, the writer and naturalist considers the animals "other nations" and affirms that we have no right to capture them. The hope of Montgomery is that in the relationship with the animals steps are taken similar to those that have occurred in human rights. He thinks that our compassion has to be extended to include more and more different beings. The insects? "We only despise them because they are small."
He points out species that are about to disappear, among them two of dolphins that are particularly dear to him, the Yang-Tsé, and the vaquita marina (one of his books is dedicated to the pink dolphins of the Amazon). The author does not eat meat and defends the struggle against climate change. He stresses that most Americans "did not vote for Trump" and many of those who did "were deceived." The animals, he concludes, "teach us that there is no single way of being, there are very different ways of feeling, of behaving, of creating families, of having sex. Sometimes they, the females, rule, like hyenas or mantises. It's amazing to see how many life options there are. "