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South America, Venezuela
The Orinoco Adventure, Page 4 - The Local Wildlife
Waterton's Orinoco Adventure

• 1 - The Orinoco Adventure - A Visit to Angostura • 2 - The Orinoco Adventure - More About Angostura
• 3 - The Orinoco Adventure - The Great Mouth of the Orinoco • 4 - The Orinoco Adventure - The Local Wildlife
• See also • Waterton's Demerara  • Guyana Gallery  • Georgetown Gallery

1808 Venezuela - Waterton's Orinoco Adventure - some of the local wildlife.
Charles Waterton was still managing the family plantations in Demerara at this time.

The Horned ScreamerIn the Orinoco area, the colourful birds that abound include aracaris, toucans, macaws, parrots, honeycreepers, fruiteaters, eagles, kingfishers, herons and parakeets.

Horned Screamer (Anhima cornuta)
The Horned Screamer has a wing span of approximately 1.70 metres. Both sexes have a "horn" protruding from the forehead but this is quite brittle and can break off although it grows back again. The horn would be of little use in a fight. When it wishes to attack, it uses the sharp spurs, which are attached to the wings, are very strong about an inch (1" about 2.2 cm) in length. The amount of white on the neck and the varies. Although its beak, feet, and legs are similar to those of gallinaceous birds, it is related in its anatomical character to ducks and geese. They are found in South America from Colombia to Brazil, and northern Argentina. They prefer marsh and river meadows as well as the llanos of Venezuela. When not grazing, they often perch on low bushes and will fly up to tall trees when alarmed.


Fer de Lance Waterton had an encounter with a large labarri snake which he recounts as follows:

"Whilst we were wending our way up the river, an accident happened of a somewhat singular nature. There was a large labarri snake coiled up in a bush, which was close to us. I fired at it, and wounded it so severly that it could not escape. Being wishful to dissect it, I reached over into the bush, with the intention to seize it by the throat, and convey it aboard. The Spaniard at the tiller, on seeing this, took the alarm, and immediately put his helm aport. This forced the vessel's head to the stream, and I was left hanging on the bush with the snake close to me, not having been able to recover my balance as the vessel veered from the land. I kept firm hold of the branch to which I was clinging, and was three times over-head in the water below, presenting an easy prey to any alligator that might have been on the look-out for a meal. Luckily, a man who was standing near the pilot, rushed to the helm, seized hold of it, and put it hard a-starboard, in time to bring the head of the vessel back again. As they were pulling me up, I saw that the snake was too far gone to do mischief; and so I laid hold of it, and brought it aboard with me, to the horror and surprise of the crew. It measured eight feet in length. As soon as I had got a change of clothes, I killed it and made a dissection of the head."


Labarri or Fer de LanceThe labarri: "This snake, which is mentioned by Waterton in his Autobiography, as well as in the Wanderings, is evidently the Craspedocephalus, and allied to the Rattlesnake and Fa-de-Lance. In a letter to me, Waterton states that it often climbs trees". (1)

Craspedocephalus lanceolatus
inhabits the greater part of South America, extending into Mexico and the Lesser Antilles, where it is known as the "Fer de Lance ". It is also given the name "bone tail", on account of the singularly coloured and spike-like tip of its tail. It is a very quick and irascible creature, known to turn on a pursuer. It grows to a length of around 1.8 to 2 meters (in the region of 6 feet), and lives in swamps, plantations, forests, on the plains and on the hills. The snake is very prolific breeder, producing dozens of young, as many as 80 or 90, which at birth are about 25 cm in length (about 10"). These little snakes are apparently just as vicious as their parents.


White headed MaroudiMaroudis
There are several species of Maroudis, those which are best known being the the common maroudi (Penelope cristata), and the white-headed maroudi (Penelope pipile). Of these birds, Mr. C.B. Brown writes as follows:- 'The white-headed maroudi makes an extraordinary rattling noise with its wings in early morning and late in the evening, evidently amusing itself, or following a custom of its kind, for when it likes, it can fly noiselessly enough. I examined their wings, and found that the males have four curiously shaped feathers at the tip of the wing, with which they make this noise. the end portion of these feathers is stiff with very short pennules. The white headed females have only three of these feathers in each wing, which are not so intensely modified as in the male; while the male of the common kind has only two of those feathers in each wing, which are modified in a less degree than those in the females of the white-headed species.'

Other members of the guan family in Guyana: Spix’s Guan Penelope jacquacu, Marail Guan Penelope marail, Blue-throated Piping-Guan Pipile cumanensis.

Maroudies beware....
Charles Waterton wrote: "I would sometimes go ashore in the swamps to shoot maroudies (guan), which are somewhat related to the pheasant; but they are very shy, and it required considerable address to get within shot of them. In these little escursions, I now and then smarted for my pains. More than once, I got among some hungry leeches, which made pretty free with my legs. The morning after I had had the adventure with the labarri snake, a cayman slowly passed our vessel. All on board agreed that this tyrant of the fresh waters could not be less than thirty feet long." (2)

A cayman glides by.Caiman (Cayman)
Charles Waterton had a famous encounter with a cayman on the Essequibo river in Guyana, the story is told in the Wanderings, Third Journey.

This cayman (or caiman) was photographed in Venezuela. It was about two to three meters in length as far as I can recall. (J. S. Sargent)


1. Wanderings in South America, the North-West of the United States, and the Antilles, in the Years 1812, 1816, 1820, and 1824. By Charles Waterton, edited by the Rev. J.G. Wood, Macmillan & Co., 1880.
2. Essays on Natural History (1st series), by Charles Waterton, Longman, Brown, Green, Longmans, & Roberts, London 1857. "Some Account of the Writer by Himself".

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