When you live in Panama and have a garden of about 8 hectares (20 acres) there are a number of animals you could keep. However we opted to not “keep” any, no cattle, no dog, no cat, no pets at all, under no circumstances ever. However, animals that are living wild on our property are starting to find out that we are a source of food, if they play their cards right. We are going to introduce them to you.
Erica is one of “our” squirrels. They are variegated squirrels a species that is very variable. Erica is the standard version, with cream-coloured flanks and a dark brown back. We have two more squirrels regularly visiting us: Sione who is completely dark colored, and Nola, who has rufous sides and a dark brown back.
In 2007 when we saw the first squirrel of their kind on the edge of our garden we were very happy. It was after all a pastureland that we bought and we were turning that into a forest.
By now, there are enough high trees, bushes and palms everywhere and Erica and her conspecifics can move around the property without ever touching the ground. During their explorations, they found our coconut trees and also the coconuts. Since that discovery they have honed the art of opening a coconut with your teeth to perfection.
Nowadays it takes the squirrels about two, three hours to open a coconut, which then provides food for a few days. So not a bad investment of their time. They prefer the green coconuts. They will first drink the juice and then eat the flesh. Towards the end they have to make the hole a bit larger and they disappear almost completely into the fruit to get to the last bits. They do pull out frequently to check the area for predators and competitors though. Squirrels are not very sharing or giving in nature.
For us, this is a minor problem. Our supply of fresh coconuts has decreased significantly. We used them to barter for other goodies with local people and for cooking. We do have a bit less to barter with now. On the other hand, when we do, the squirrels notice it too. They seem to have a pretty good idea of how many coconuts are around and after we remove a bunch for ourselves, we often see the squirrels check out the place carefully, obviously wondering how all those coconuts disappeared.