Painted for Outing by Albert Heneke.
the tapir at home.
A Day's Sport in Costa Rica.
HAD resided several months in Costa Rica before I had a chance to hunt the peccaries and other game which abound throughout the country. My first experience was at Jimenez, a small village consisting of twenty-five or thirty houses and shanties near the Atlantic coast. One beautiful tropic morning in company with John Carillo, a Colombian negro, and the best hunter in Jimenez, which is saying a great deal, I started from the River Platte Company’s headquarters. John was armed with a muzzle-loading gun, loaded with a mixture of everything from slugs to No. 10’s, while I carried a 20-gauge, loaded with buck, and each of us wore a long machete or cruzado strapped to his belt. For about a mile we followed the plank road. On either side the forest had been cleared away for a couple of hundred yards, with the exception of a few giant trees left standing along the roadside. As we approached these, large flocks of macaws and toucans would fly out, only to alight on the next tree. Finally John turned down a path to the right, and crossing a small stream we were at once within the dense forest. Underfoot it was damp and cool, for even the burning tropical sun rarely penetrates here. There was scarcely any underbrush, except here and there in little open glades or along the riverbanks. In those spots where the sun’s rays fell the ground was rich with brilliant flowers. We had not gone more than fifty yards from the edge of the woods before John pointed to the ground, turned and whispered “Los warees.” True enough, there in the soft damp mould, beside a tiny stream, were the imprints of the sharp little hoofs of a peccary. As we proceeded, I noticed that instead of following the track of one peccary we were following a score. From all sides the tracks came, and converging formed a well-beaten path. Presently, John showed me the muddy
hollow in which the herd had recently been lying, and explained that they had separated to feed, and we had better follow one of the many paths that led from the bedding-place. He had scarcely finished speaking when happening to glance to one side I caught sight of a moving body; a second later, a herd of nearly a hundred peccaries appeared, not twenty yards from us. They were closely packed together, with an old tusker leading, and apparently had not perceived us, as they were walking quietly along in our direction. John caught sight of them at almost the same instant. There were a couple of flashes from our guns, and a report no louder than a pistol, so deadening to all sound are the heavy forests. The smoke hung low, and as we were unable to see whether the game had taken to their heels or not, we decided to take to a couple of small palm-trees. Squeals, grunts and snorts came from the direction of the pigs. When the smoke lifted, we saw the herd standing facing us, their little eyes blazing, and every bristle standing on end; but only for a moment. The next instant they spied us, and charged in a mad, demoniacal fury. From that moment I became convinced that the natives were right in saying “the ‘warees’ are possessed of the devil.” As they reached the foot of the trees and found us out of reach, their rage increased. One big fellow made a jump at me, and I was about to shoot when John stopped me, saying, “Fire only at the herd, Señor, and use your cruzado on single ones.” Suiting his action to the word, lie leaned down and dealt one fellow a blow across the nose that laid him dead in his tracks. Waiting until they had calmed down somewhat, and had become densely packed, we opened fire simultaneously. This was too much even for “warees,” and they scampered off in every direction. On descending from our perch, we found that our last volley had killed four, while numerous blood-drops showed we had wounded others. John had killed one with his machete, and our first shot had killed the leader. Drawing his knife, John quickly and deftly cut a
OUTING FOR DECEMBER.
piece of meat containing the musk-gland from the rump of each pig, and hung the bodies up to convenient lianas. It is always necessary to remove this gland as soon as the animal is killed, for otherwise the meat becomes so impregnated with the scent that it is unfit to eat. As we had more than enough peccaries, we decided to try our luck at deer. For several hours we tramped through the heavy, primeval forest, silent as the grave, save now and then a mountain-hen or quail-dove would whirr from our path, or a flock of macaws or toucans would set up a noisy clattering from the tree-tops. Though we hunted thoroughly, it was some time before we saw any sign of the lookedfor game. Finally, in a small open glade, we found the fresh tracks of a doe and fawn, and started on their trail. For some time it led along the banks of a tiny stream, and then crossing this, suddenly plunged into a dense jungle of reeds, cane and young palms. As we entered these, John remarked, “Muy buena bosca para danta, Señor,” and dropping on all fours relapsed into silence. Before we had gone a dozen yards we came across the footprints of a large danta or tapir. The track crossed the trail we were following, at nearly right angles, and disappeared in the cane-brake on either side, without leaving the slightest trace of the animal’s passage. I was astonished and unable to understand how such a large and clumsy animal could possibly force his way through the thick cane without breaking a pathway, but afterwards learned that the tapir, apparently so clumsy, is one of the most difficult animals to see or hear; in fact, a tapir will push his way through the thickest brush, a few yards ahead of the hunter, without making the slightest noise or causing any appreciable movement of the canes. We waited a few moments, and held a whispered council as to whether to give up the deer or the tapir. John said, though we were by no means sure of the deer, yet the chances of the tapir were very small indeed. He explained at great length its wariness, cunning and ferocity when cornered, but the more he talked the more I wanted to shoot a tapir, and especially that particular one. So, cautiously and silently, with our guns ready, we crept or rather crawled along through mud, under briars and
lianas, over the slimy fallen trunks of wild bananas and across streams, most of the time on all fours. For what seemed hours we followed that elusive danta, and I was just begin. ning to wish he had never crossed our path when suddenly John stopped with a muttered “Carrajo!” and pointed to the trail. There before me was the crossing we had started from, but instead of a single track there were two! In a moment I comprehended the situation. The tapir had been leading us in a circle and was just ahead of us, but hidden from view in the thick cane. Another council of war was held, with the result that John kept on, and I turned and followed the trail back. Coming to a slightly open space I drew myself to one side and squatted down behind a fallen banana-tree to await developments. Silently the moments passed. There was no sound save the soft rustling of the trees and waving canes as they were stirred by the balmy breeze. I kept my eyes riveted on the trail as though the danta were a phantom. Suddenly I started. Four or five paces from where I lay hidden I saw the tall canes silently parted as by an invisible hand, and then through the opening emerged the large black head and small wicked eyes of a full-grown tapir. For a moment he hesitated as if scenting danger, and, wrinkling his nose, he sniffed the air suspiciously once or twice and started on. In a moment his whole body was exposed to view, and bulky as he was he seemed to glide rather than walk, so silently and yet swiftly he moved. As he came abreast of me I raised my gun cautiously to my shoulder; yet, hidden as I was, the tapir instantly stopped and threw up his head. Taking a quick aim behind his shoulder I fired. With a wild snort he dashed forward, and as he did so I gave him the other barrel, but he was out of sight in a moment and I gave up all hope of ever seeing him again. As I arose from my cramped position John appeared through the opening whence the tapir had come; he could not have been more than twenty feet behind the quarry. We walked forward a few paces, and found in the path large drops of blood. Rushing ahead, John gave a shout, and there, lying in a heap, his forefeet over a projecting root, was the tapir stone-dead.
Verrill's description of hunting in Costa Rica