A group of anthropologists from Tulane University were in for a big surprise when they went walking in Sector Santa Rosa of the Área de conservación in Guanacaste, Costa Rica. In pursuit of a group of capuchin monkeys, they were observing the playful behavior of a troop when a screech revealed that a juvenile had been captured by an enormous boa constrictor, and they caught the whole thing on camera. Astonishingly, in the face of such an intimidating predator, the troop opted for fight rather than flight and banded together to retrieve their pal from the snake’s fatal clutches. The footage is published as part of a study in the journal Scientific Reports.
Professor of Anthropology Dr Katharine M. Jack and her colleagues were in pursuit of a group of 25 white-face capuchins (Cebus imitator) when the dramatic scene unfolded, back in the summer of 2019. Some of the younger members were engaging in play when one unfortunate individual crossed paths with a 2-meter (6.5-foot) boa constrictor. The attack launched an immediate and collaborative rescue mission from the rest of the troop, which descended on the boa with force as they attempted to extract their young from its deadly grasp.
The fraught mission kicks off at around 28 seconds into the above video and lasts just 19 seconds. The 6-year-old juvenile is grabbed by the boa, which begins wrapping around it and squeezing, as is the infamous hunting method of these immensely strong predators. Seconds later an adult male is on the case, sounding the troop’s snake alarm call to launch a counterattack. The alpha male of the group then charges the snake and, with two females as backup, begins furiously attacking the boa. They eventually retrieve the traumatized youngster and make a hasty exit at around 47 seconds into the video, ending the match at 1:0 to Team Capuchin.
Teamwork driven counter-attacks on predators such as the boa constrictor aren’t uncommon in primate species, but it’s rare that they’re observed by scientists and even rarer to catch them on camera in this way. The once-in-a-lifetime nature of witnessing such a spectacle is aptly captured by the clip’s audio repeatedly cutting out as the researchers needed to censor all the profanities that naturally come pouring out during the tense encounter.
The authors on the study state that their footage "clearly supports the hypothesis that predation has been a strong selective force driving sociality in primates," as it shows how tight social bonds in troops such as this one can be the difference between life and death when it comes to acting quickly in a crisis. It also shows that this protection isn’t only afforded to kin, as the alpha male in the video that risked its life in charging the boa wasn’t actually related to the young monkey in its grasp.
The counter story to this victorious tale of course is that the poor boa ended its day hungry and covered in scratches. While a giant snake crushing the life out of a baby monkey might paint the former as the villain of the piece, at the end of the day, a predator’s gotta predate. However, in a year of such perpetual doom and gloom, it’s undeniably uplifting to see the lil’ guys come out on top for a change. You go, Team Capuchin.