“Zzuss!”

by Katherine Hawk | Sep 1, 2023 | 0 comments

“Zzuss—zzuss…” The alarm call rings through the silent forest. A bird, startled, leaves his branch and watches from a new perch. “Zzuss, zzuss, zzuss!” Again the call sounds, louder and more urgent this time, as five or six white figures glide like ghosts through the treetops. It is a troop of silky sifaka lemurs, and they are hurrying—running for their lives. A fat brown spider sitting on her web peers through the darkness and sees a lithe brown figure following them. Fossa, she thinks and closes her eyes again lazily to wait for her prey.

It is dark in the forest, but the moonlight reaches the upper canopies, and the sifakas have no trouble seeing their pursuer. The whole troop has taken up the cry now, and as the forest awakes, it reverberates with hums and squeaks and chirps and “zzuss, zzuss—ZZUSS!”

If they continue like this, the fossa thinks, he will have no success at all with his hunting tonight. Every creature in the forest will be on the alert. The sifakas know that he is there and will not rest until they are sure that they are rid of him. He had better go now and try his luck elsewhere, before every single animal is awake, the fossa thinks sourly as he melts into the dark.

The fossa is gone, but it takes the sifakas some time to realize it. When they are sure that there is no trace of him, they quiet down. One last “zzuss!” echoes like a sneeze through the once-more-silent forest. In the distance, they hear a squeal. Maybe the fossa succeeded in finding a meal.

The tree which the troop was chased away from was bigger than this one, but it will have to do for the rest of the night. In the morning, when everything will be light and safe again, they will look for a new tree. Perhaps they will even go back to the old one, if it doesn’t stink too much of fossa.

In the morning, the whole forest awakens at once—and awakens noisily. Diurnal birds making up for lost time burst into song simultaneously—some melodious, some not at all. Colorful tree frogs, wanting to contribute to society, chirp from their branches, all but drowning out the low droning of the bees.

The troop of silky sifakas, too, wakes up; it is impossible to sleep through such a concert. The older ones yawn and stretch and rub their eyes, while the younger ones squeak with glee and tug at their elders impatiently. It is such a wonderful day! Every creature in the forest seems to be up and about, the incident of the night before forgotten entirely. No time is ever wasted here.

For the sifakas, every day begins with careful grooming of their long silky white fur from which half their name is derived. Truth be told, the males are always more fastidious than the impatient females.

Once all are looking their best, it is time to eat. The females have feeding priority, so the single male of the troop has to wait meekly until he is given permission to join in. The tree the troop ended up in the night before has plenty of green leaves and much fruit, and the sifakas are in no hurry to move on. They rip the leaves off in handfuls with their long arms or hold the branches to their mouths while they nibble. A youngster a few months old has gotten hold of a ripe fruit and is nearly pulled off the branch by its weight.

When the sifakas have finished their food, they swing about in the trees to exercise their arms and legs. A mother swings from a branch using one arm while a two-week-old infant with a very pink face clings to the fur on her belly, enjoying the ride. With the fossa asleep, these lemurs have nothing to fear, and they play and chatter until they are hungry again.

During the day, the sifakas swing, eat, and sleep as it strikes their fancy. Toward evening, they begin to settle down and look around to ensure that none are missing—it’s easy to get carried away in the excitement of life and not to notice if a troop member strays. They are all there, so slowly they take their places on the tree and shut their eyes. This tree is very good, much better than the last one, they all decide. They will stay here for the present.

The fossa might come again tonight, but what of it? They can get up and run away just as they did the night before. For now, they are well-fed and healthy and content—and tired. One by one they fall asleep on their new tree. A cricket begins to chirp, and others soon join in. It is loud, but nothing can disturb the sifakas tonight.

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