Revenge of the Beasts
Winter 1997. I arrive at the giant hill in a dark forest after a lethargic journey from Thailand through the Sea of Japan and Vostochny Port in Russia’s Far East. My name is Kulap and I am here for my ilk, all the rhesus macaques of east Asia for the 75th annual BASH conference (BASH is short for “Beasts for Annihilation and Slaughter of Humans”).
Look, I’d rather be home on the Thai coast, chewing on lice taken out of my spouse’s head, or washing my tumescent butt in the turquoise waters of Tonsai Bay. For food, I only have to chatter and prance for human tourists who shower me with bananas and guavas. To interrupt that pleasant life for a trip to this godforsaken place is madness, but I cannot refuse an obligation. As I reach the meeting spot, I see a large gathering in defiance of our Nature’s laws, born enemies sit peacefully next to each other - tigers and stags, elephants and crocodiles, wolves and sheep, birds and rodents.
On the mossy flat rock at the apex of the hill, the Secretary General of BASH, King Mistafan prowls – a Katanga Lion with a great black mane and bloodshot eyes. King Mistafan often shows off his roar in a thick baritone voice as he speaks:
“My dear animals, as I sweep my eyes over you, I can’t help licking my lips. My favorite food is here in flesh and blood. There is the delicious Zebra from the plains, there is the fat Russian stag, a fleshy Samba on its haunches. My instinct asks me to devour them all, yet here we are, full of restraint, coming together as friends. Here we are, unified as Species of Animals, because we have a common enemy: the despicable villain of Mother Nature, the merciless destroyer of all beasts, birds, and reptiles - the wicked, gruesome Human Being!”
The crowd of animals whistle, howl, and growl at the mention of the Human Being – our Enemy Number One.
“Yes,” snarls Fangalicious, the grey Wolf. “We want to kill Man, cut him up piece by piece with our big jaws, and tear into his succulent flesh!”
“By Jove!” the grizzly Germain gnars, “if I ever see a man, I’ll pound his skull with one mighty blow. He steals my habitat even in the remotest parts of Alaska.”
“They multiply,” cries the fox. “They have families full of snotty children who grow up meaner and crueler than the previous generation. They are near six billion and live long.”
“They deforest our habitats,” cries the anaconda. “The Amazon rainforest is raided to make their cute little furniture. Bloody parasites!”
I raise my hand. “Great points, all of you. But I have a simple question, King Mistafan. Why here?”
“What do you mean?” asks Mistafan.
“I mean, why not have this BASH conference in a warmer place like – say – Thailand by the ocean where we can socialize better. Why in this wilderness with our butts freezing?”
The Katanga Lion snorts. “Why here indeed? Do you think I’m a masochist? Do you think I enjoy coming here from my Serengiti? I have a good reason.” He pauses and roars.
“Raise the Trophy!”
A black bear gets up to raise a bamboo pole lying on the other side of the hill. As it rises, the top emerges into view. A bearded human head with open eyes on a stake with an apple between his lifeless grinning teeth. There was no flesh from face below, just skeleton and remnants that swish in the wind.
“My dear Beasts, Birds, and Reptiles – meet our guest today. Vladimir Markov!”
Vladmir Markov? A real human being with a name. What a sight for sore eyes!
The crowd erupts in thunderous applause. King Mistafan continues with a roar.
“This is Vladimir Markov, a beekeeper in Primorye. He was also a poacher, hunting down ferrets, the very source of food for the tigers living in the Bikin River valley. And Markov’s greed didn’t stop there – he wanted tiger meat too. So, one day, he tracked an Amur tigress and shot her, but the wounded beast escaped. Bleeding and limping, the tiger came here – to this very same place – to hide, recover, and plot her revenge!”
Mistafan pauses, as we hear a pattering of feet. From behind the hill, a majestic tiger appears shaking her fur, appearing to move smoothly in spite of a limp. She walks next to the bamboo stake and stands right under Markov’s grinning head, her striped hide glows in the crimson sunset.
Mistafan announces, “From the great valley of the Primorsky Rhy, I bring you my friend and our hero of the year, the pan-Siberian Amur Tigress - Toyota!”
Toyota? Toyota?? Seems a disappointing name for a tiger. I can’t fathom why she is named after a car.
As the crowd cheers, Mistafan continues: “Toyota has shown us that we can take down the Man. When she was wounded, she bided her time and convalesced. When she was ready, she tracked down Markov’s trail from his smell and footsteps, and waited in the underbrush. As soon as he opened the gate, she pounced on Markov and devoured him. Toyota avenged! She showed that animals can retaliate. We struck fear in the human beings. We are capable of plotting and executing an idea over weeks and months. Show her your love!”
The crowd screams as Toyota let outs a bloodcurdling roar. The wolves howl, the bears gnarr, the lions rumble, the birds twitter, and the hyenas laugh.
But suddenly there is a screech from behind us of such a high pitch that we all cover our ears. It stops and we hear a thin high voice:
“I’m sorry to screech! I just want to say - Markov is dead. One down, 5.9 Billion to go! Yay!”
King Mistafan does not miss the stinging sarcasm in the tone.
“Who said that? Show yourself!”
The crowd parts, and I look behind into the clearing. I can’t really spot in the beginning, but then I see a tiny dark silhouette swinging upside down from the branch of an ash tree. His wings shake, as his feet unclasp, and he flutters towards Mistafan, gently alighting on the mossy flat rock. He speaks with a drawl.
“My name is Fidari, I’m a horseshoe bat from the Andalusian region.”
“Whoa!” says Fangalicious “You are one ugly creature!”
Germain snorts. “You are part of the nocturnal underworld. You don’t fight the humans. And you have temerity to insult Toyota!”
“Hmmp!” says Toyota, “I personally don’t care for Mr. Fidari’s opinion.”
Fidari whistled. “I’m sorry I’m ugly, but I think I’m really useful. I don’t mean to insult anyone here. Toyota killed one man, one dangerous man! It is a victory.”
Mistafan asks, “Yet you think it is just a tiny victory?”
“Well, it is tiny,” Fidari says. “Let’s see, there are 5.9 billion people in the world. It grows a billion people every decade. Please don’t tell me that the only strategy BASH has is sending big cats to kill humans!”
“We have other ideas too,“ Mistafan growls.
“Like what?” Fidari says. “Like invading villages with elephants and big cats?”
“Well, they have guns. They will shoot us all. The human beings are more intelligent than all of us. We can’t beat brains with just brawns. Look at us. Let us admit it, we are all stupid.”
“Hey, wait a minute!” I say and the crow echoes. “Some of us are smart here.”
“Look at me,” says the crow, “I can join sticks together to make a longer stick.”
Fidari sighs. “But you are still a bird brain! Joining sticks together isn’t helping us kill humans.”
I get up, offended too. “What about me? I’m a rhesus monkey. We are intelligent species. We can open doors, we can use catapults, we can attack from behind.”
Fidari twitters. “You make me laugh. You will be cindered with just one carpet bomb. You seriously think you are all smart? We ain’t nothing compared to Humans. We are all dumb. We won’t last against their weapons.”
Mistafan says brusquely, “Are you here only to castigate us? Or do you have any ideas?”
“Ideas!” snarls Fangalicious, “He is an ugly bat! His place is at the bottom, not on this rock!”
Fidari laughs. “Ok, so you only think humans can be killed by the big cats and the tall bears?”
“We already did!” Toyota says.
“But you are not going to kill billions or millions or even thousands.”
Mistafan says exasperated. “Well, do you have any better ideas?”
“As a matter of fact, I do,” says Fidari, “I have a plan that kills millions if not billions of humans. Wipes them out of this planet. Slows their growth. But I can’t do it alone. I need help from other species.”
Spreading his wings, the little creature grins.
“It is a biological weapon. I carry it in my throat. I am tiny and ugly. I am not sleek as a wildcat or handsome as a stag. I live in dark caves and deep recesses where it is damp and dirty. But I have an extraordinary immune system. The germs that attack me turn so virulent that no one can withstand them except my immune system.”
I suddenly get his idea. I ask, “so you carry a virus?”
“Not one, but multiple viruses. If a virus can transmit to a human being and then move from human to human via just social contact, the human race is in trouble!”
“But they are smart, they will find a cure.”
“Enough damage will be done before they find a cure. If they find a cure for one virus, we will create a new virus.”
“If this were so easy, why didn’t we do this before,” says Fangalicious.
“We did. The Influenza. It originated in birds, mutated, and then finally transmitted to humans.”
“But they got it all under control now,” says Mistafan.
“Yes, but the flu is seasonal, doesn’t kill as many, and moves slowly. We must create something that is far more deadly.”
Mistafan strokes his chin with his paw. “That is a radical idea. What do you need?”
“Time. This may take years and decades. And help, we need to modify this virus with human germs. I need help from civets, boars, and pangolins. They are the bridge from my virus to the reassorted virus that can eventually host in a human being.”
Fidari draws a breath. “I need respect. I don’t want the underworld animals to be treated like lesser species. We scavenge the Earth, we look after the world at night.”
Mistafan growls. “I agree! Fangalicious, Germain – I don’t want to hear denigration from you two. Do I make myself clear?”
“Well, I mean they are deformed and tiny ...”
“One more word and I will banish you! Do I make myself clear?” Mistafan taking a step forward, bellows in their face.
“Crystal clear, sir!” Both step back in fear.
Fidari says, “now, I must go as I have a long journey ahead. I’m tired. Never been awake before night-time. You will hear from me soon. I do hope Kulap can escort me to the edge of the forest.”
“Of course,” I say, “just climb on my shoulder and I will swing you across the pine trees down to the port.”
As we swing from tree to tree, I ask Fidari if there is anything I can do to help in his mission.
“Yes,” whispers the bat clinging upside down from my shoulder fur on my back, “you need to stay away from the humans.”
“Why?” I ask.
“Because they are going to give you the virus. And the monkeys can’t handle it. Your species will be wiped out.”
“But humans provide our livelihood. We get our food from human tourists. All we have to do is wiggle our tumescent butts.”
“What exactly is tumescence? Does it mean swollen?”
“Yes, you know your vocabulary.”
“I can see your butt up close in this position. Why do humans like to see you wiggle it?”
“I can’t explain. It is just amusing to them.”
“Well, you need to go back to the Thai forests. You can’t just make living by shaking your butt.”
We have become performers, spoiled by the very same human beings into a lulled existence. It will take decades for monkeys to rediscover their old habits of foraging in the deep forests. As I swing from tree to tree in the dark forest, I hear Fidari slowly falling asleep. Our times shifted – I’m awake and Fidari asleep at night.
I wonder if he is right. If the animal kingdom can ever devise a biological weapon that jumps to humans, spreads, multiplies, and destroys them en masse. Perhaps not. Perhaps we will just scare the living daylights out of them, and they will change their prodigal ways. But the Fidaris – we need them. More than even the Toyotas of the world.
Kulap, Dec 1997.
*Note:True story of the killing of Vladimir Markov by an Amur Tiger:
"The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival" by John Vailliant.