Green Iguanas in St Martin / Зелени игуани в Ст Мартен

The word iguana comes from the indigenous Taíno name for the species: iwana.

The green iguana, usually simply called iguana, is a large species of lizard native to Central America, South America, and the Caribbean. It grows to 1.5 metres (4.9 ft) in length from head to tail, although a few specimens have grown more than 2 metres (6.6 ft) with bodyweights upward of 20 pounds (9.1 kg). In St Martin we met the most beautiful wild iguanas, like dragons, the stuff of legends, after cruising the entire Caribbean region and the Bahamas.

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Думата „игуана“ произхожда от индианската дума „иуана“

Зелените игуани, наричани просто „игуани“, са големи влечуги обитаващи Централна и Южна Америка и Карибите. Растат до 1.5 метра от върха на главата до върха на опашката, но се срещат и екземпляри по-големи от 2 метра тежащи над 9 кг. В Ст Мартен срещнахме най-красивите игуани, като легендарни дракони, след като срещнахме много и най-различни игуани в карибския регион и Бахамите.

Green Iguana, St Martin

Green Iguana, St Martin

These iguanas live up in the trees. We saw a few in St Martin while kayaking inside the Marigot lagoon, decorating the branches of the mangroves. They are agile climbers, but can fall up to 50 feet (15 m) and land unhurt using their hind leg claws to clasp leaves and branches to break a fall.

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Тези игуани живеят в клоните на дърветата. Видяхме няколко в клоните на мангровите, когато минахме с каяака покрай бреговете на лагуна Мариго. Те са умели катерачи, но понякога падат от дърветата и до 15 метра височина успяват да се приземят без да се наранят, като се спират с дългите си нокти в клоните.

Green Iguanas

Green Iguanas

During cold, wet weather, green iguanas prefer to stay on the ground for greater warmth. When swimming, an iguana remains submerged, letting its four legs hang limply against its side, only using their powerful tail to propel through the water.

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Когато е студено и влажно, зелените игуани предпочитат да стоят на земята, по камъните близо до водата и да акумулират топлина. Когато плуват, телата им са изцяло потопени във водата, крайниците им висят безжизнано и се придвижват във водата само с помощта на мощните си опашки.

Green Iguana

Green Iguana

Despite their name, green iguanas can come in different colors. In southern countries of their range, such as Peru, green iguanas appear bluish in color with bold blue markings. On islands such as Bonaire, Curaçao, Aruba, and Grenada, a green Iguana’s color may range from green to lavender, black, and even pink. Green iguanas from the western region of Costa Rica are red and animals of the northern ranges, such as Mexico, appear orange. Juvenile green iguanas from El Salvador are often bright blue as babies, however they lose this color as they get older.

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Въпреки името им, зелените игуани могат да бъдат най-различни цветове. В страните на юг, като Перу например, зелените игуани са синкави на цвят с тъмно сини раета. На островите Бонер, Кюрасао, Аруба и Гренада оцветяването им варира от зелено до лавандулово, черно и даже розово. Зелените игуани от западният район на Коста Рика са червени а  в северните райони, като Мексико, са оранжеви. Младите игуани от Ел Салвадор са ярко сини като бебета, но по-късно си губят цвета и стават сивкави.

Green Iguanas, St Martin

Green Iguanas, St Martin

Green iguanas possess a row of spines along their backs and along their tails which helps to protect them from predators. Their whip-like tails can be used to deliver painful strikes and like many other lizards, when grabbed by the tail, the iguana can allow it to break, so it can escape and eventually regenerate a new one. In addition, iguanas have a well developed dewlap which helps regulate their body temperature.This dewlap is used in courtships and territorial displays. As soon as we approached the iguanas they would start shaking their heads up and down showing us their dewlaps.

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Зелените игуани имат шипове по гръбнака, които им помагат да се защитават от хищници. Техните опашки подобни на камшици могат да бъдат използвани за да удрят силно при нападения, а когато биват хванати за опашките имат способността да си ги откъсват, за да избягат и след време им порасват нови. Освен това, те имат добре развити подгушни кожи, които им помагат да си регулират телесната температура. Използват ги и по време на ухажване или когато си защитават територията. Всеки път щом доближихме игуана, тя започваше да си клати глават нагоре-надолу с издута шия.

Green Iguanas

Green Iguanas

Green iguanas have excellent vision, enabling them to detect shapes and motions at long distances. As green iguanas have only a few rod cells, they have poor vision in low-light conditions. At the same time, they have cells called “double cone cells” that give them sharp color vision and enable them to see ultraviolet wavelengths. This ability is highly useful when basking so the animal can ensure that it absorbs enough sunlight in the forms of UVA and UVB to produce vitamin D.

Green iguanas have a white photosensory organ on the top of their heads called the parietal eye (also called third eye, pineal eye or pineal gland), in contrast to most other lizards which have lost this primitive feature. This „eye“ has only a rudimentary retina and lens and cannot form images, but is sensitive to changes in light and dark and can detect movement. This helps the iguana detect predators stalking it from above.

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Зелените игуани имат отлично зрение и детектират движение и форми на дълги разстояния. Но не виждат добре, когато е мрачно. За това пък имат зрение, което им позволява да виждат ултравиолетовата светлина. Тази им способност им помага, когато се пекат на слънце да изберат най-горещото място.

Зелените игуани имат бял фотосензорен орган на върха на главите, или „трето око“, за разлика от повечето от останалите влечуги, които са загубили тази примитивна черта. „Окото“ има закърняла ретина и леща, които не могат да формират картина, но е чуствително на промените на светлината и засича движение. Това им помага да засичат хищници над главите им.

Green Iguana, St Martin

Green Iguana, St Martin

Green iguanas have very sharp teeth that are capable of shredding leaves and even human skin. These teeth are shaped like a leaf, broad and flat, with serrations on the edge. The similarity of these teeth to those of one of the first dinosaurs discovered led to the dinosaur being named Iguanodon, meaning „iguana-tooth“, and the incorrect assumption that it had resembled a gigantic iguana. The teeth are situated on the inner sides of the jawbones which is why they are hard to see in smaller specimens.

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Зелените игуани имат много остри зъби способни да късат листа и дори човешка кожа. Тези зъби са във формата на листо, широки и плоски, назъбени по краищата. Тъй като те много си приличат със зъбите на вид динозавър, нарекли динозавъра Игуанодон, което значи „зъб на игуана“ и погрешно решили, че този вид динозавър приличал на огрмона игуана. Зъбите им са разположени навътре в устата и е трудно да бъдат видяни.

Green Iguanas

Green Iguanas

The American pet trade has put a great demand on the green iguana; 800,000 iguanas were imported into the U.S. in 1995 alone. However, these animals are demanding to care for properly over their lifetime, and many die within a few years of acquisition.

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В Американската индустрия за екзотични домашни животни игуаните са доста популярни. 800 000 игуани годишно биват внасяни в САЩ. Но отглеждането на игуани в домашни условия е изключително трудно и повечето умират до няколко месеца.

Green Iguanas, St Martin

Green Iguanas, St Martin

Interesting Historical Iguana-Facts

1. In the aftermath of two Caribbean hurricanes in 1995, a raft of uprooted trees with a group of fifteen green iguanas landed on the eastern side of Anguilla – an island where that species have never been recorded previously. Biologist Ellen Censky, of the Connecticut State Museum of Natural History, believes that the new iguanas had accidentally become caught on the trees and rafted two hundred miles across the ocean from Guadeloupe, where green iguanas are an indigenous species. By examining the weather patterns and ocean currents, Censky has shown that the iguanas had spent three weeks at sea before arriving on the island. This colony began breeding on the new island within two years of its arrival.

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Интерсни исторически игуана-факти

1. След преминаването на 2 урагана през Карибите през 1995, сал от изкоренени дървета с група от петнайсетина игуани доплавал до бреговете на остров Ангила на няколко мили на север от Ст Мартен- остров, където преди това не са се срещали тези животни. Биоложката Елена Ченски вярва, че новите игуани случайно попаднали в дърветата след урагана се носели по водата в продължение на 200 морски мили прекосявайки морето чак от Гваделуп, където живяли преди това. След като проучила метереологичните условия и морски течения, Ченски стигнала до заключението, че игуаните прекарали 3 седмици на вода преди да пристигнат на острова и започнали да се размножават в следващите 2 години.

Green Iguanas

Green Iguanas

2. In February 2012, the government of Puerto Rico proposed that the islands’ iguanas, which were said to have a population of four million and considered to be a non-native nuisance, be eradicated and sold for meat.

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2. През февруари 2012, Порториканското правителство предложило всички игуани на острова да бъдат изловени, избити и продадени за месо, тъй като не били местен вид животни.

 

Green Iguana, St Martin

Green Iguana, St Martin

3. In January 2008, large numbers of iguanas established in Florida dropped from the trees in which they lived, due to uncommonly cold nights that put them in a state of torpor and caused them to lose their grip on the tree branches. Though no specific numbers were provided by local wildlife officials, local media described the phenomenon as a „frozen iguana shower“ in which dozens „littered“ local bike paths. Upon the return of daytime warmth many (but not all) of the iguanas „woke up“ and resumed their normal activities.

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3. През януари 2008, огромно количество игуани във Флорида паднали от дърветата, където живеели, тъй като внезапно станало прекалено студено през нощта, което ги накарало да се вцепенят и да изтръват клоните, за които се държали. Въпреки, че не се казва колко точно били падналите игуани, вестниците описали явлението като „душ от замръзнали игуани“ където десетки животни „задръстили“ колоездачните пътеки. След като се позатоплило времето, повечето от игуаните (но не всички) „се размразили“ и се завърнали към обичайните си дейности.

Green Iguana, St Martin

Green Iguana, St Martin

4. The Moche people of ancient Peru worshipped animals and often depicted Green Iguanas in their art.

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4. Индианците „Моче“ от древен Перу боготворяли игуаните и често те се срещат изобразени в произведенията им на изкуството.

Green Iguanas

Green Iguanas

5. The Green iguana and its relative the Black iguana (Ctenosaura similis) have been used as a food source in Central and South America for the past 7,000 years. In Central and South America, Green Iguanas are still used as a source of meat and are often referred to as gallina de palo, „bamboo chicken“ or „chicken of the tree,“ because they are said to taste like chicken.

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5. Зелените игуани и техните роднини черните игуани са били използвани за храна в Централна и Южна америка от 7 000 години насам. Там все още ядат месото им и често ги наричат „gallina de palo“- „бамбуково пиле“ или „дървесно пиле“, тъй като месото им имало вкус на пилешко.

(From Wikipedia)

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Swimming with Pigs

 People normally swim with dolphins.

We did it with pigs!

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Near Staniel Cay, after snorkeling in the Thunderball Grotto, we go for a swim with pigs. I know, this is weird. Trust me, I am now looking at the pictures and can’t believe it’s real.

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Swimming pigs! We have heard of the swimming iguanas of the Galapagos even of the swimming monkeys in Borneo. But pigs?

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No one knows for sure how the pig family came to settle on the beach near Staniel Cay in the Bahamas known today as Pig Beach, and how come they swim, like true athletes, in the tropical sea.

Legend has it that the pigs have been dropped off on Big Major Cay by a group of sailors who were planning to return later and cook them. But the sailors never returned. Probably got too drunk and forgot on which of the 700 hundred Bahamian islands they dropped the animals. The pigs sustained themselves feeding on leftovers dumped from passing ships.

Another theory says that the pigs survived a shipwreck and managed to swim to shore, while another claims that they are fugitives from a nearby islet. Others suggest that the pigs are part of a business scheme to attract tourists to the Bahamas.

 

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Whatever the truth behind these guys New World beginnings and pioneering struggles, today they are prospering and thriving on the island, enjoying a life of pleasure and leisure, of fiesta and siesta, and a bit of sporting activities, for which way of life many openly envy them.

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How not to envy them? They have the perfect setup. All they do all day is lie on a Bahamian beach lazily basking in the sun. And when it gets too hot, either move under the shade of the low tropical vegetation of the island or jump in the warm crystal waters of the Caribbean Sea for a few refreshing laps.

The baby piglets, the cutest you will ever find, occupy themselves with activities and games like any vacationing youngsters on a beach resort, such as digging holes in the sand with their soft pink little muzzles or chasing each others’ tails.

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Moreover, these guys never worry for food. Food comes to them every day on a boat. On many boats actually.

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This girl is kissable…

Locals and tourists bring them goodies of all sorts: apple and potato peels, pieces of salad and bread, tasty leftovers. The cruisers stop in the anchorage in front of the beach and don’t throw their food scraps to the fishes. Oh, no! They keep every last piece of uneaten diners for the piglets. The locals bring them food too, organizing boat rides for tourists, and consider the pigs national patrimony, one of Bahamas’ most popular tourist attractions.

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Mira feeding the piglets

Thus, when the piggies spot a dinghy approaching the beach they know a delivery is coming and race to the boat. The fastest swimmer gets the biggest cut.

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All they have to do to deserve the handouts is swim with the tourists, demonstrate gracious swimming skills, and pose and smile for the pictures.

Maya swimming with pigs

Maya swimming with pigs

The most beautiful part of the story is that the animals don’t belong to anyone, they live in freedom and die of old age. They are protected, enjoying a status of celebrities, and nobody roasts them and eats them.

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More fun pig pictures

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Ivo swimming with pigs

Ivo swimming with pigs

 

Synchronized underwater pigs

Synchronized underwater pigs

Maya and her piglet friend

Maya and her piglet friend

 

Mira with the pig family

Mira with the pig family

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surreal underwater creatures

surreal underwater creatures

 

 Three swimming pigs chased by Mira

Three swimming pigs chased by Mira

 

Maya with underwater pigs

Maya with underwater pigs

Smile for the picture!

Say cheeeeeeze!

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Allens Cay’s Iguanas

Viktor with iguana  Allens Cay , Exumas Islands, the Bahamas

Viktor with iguana
Allens Cay , Exumas Islands, the Bahamas

From Chub Cay we sail east, past the island of New Providence, without stopping in Nassau, the big, crowded, polluted, crime-ridden capital of the Bahamas, to Allens Cay in the Exumas.

Someone, whose name we don’t remember, whom we met only once on the beach in Chub Cay, has left a detailed Cruising Guide to the Bahamas on the steps of our boat in the morning of December 25th. Or maybe it was Santa on jet-skis who did it? In any case, the gift is greatly appreciated and we are using it every day. It tells us where is what and how to get there. It also tells us a lot of other useful information not only about the places’ geography, facilities and attractions, but also about their history, climate, and other particularities as well. But there is a downside to the cruising guide phenomenon. Everyone goes to the same place recommended by the cruising guide and it can get really crowded. Like Allens Cay.

As we reach the tiny anchorage near the tiny uninhabited island, we find eight other boats already anchored there. We drop the hook with just a bit of chain as we are too close to the other boats. The reason why this place is so popular is the iguanas.

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The cruising guide says that this is the one and only Bahamian island where the critters can be found and admired; everywhere else they have been extinct. (But it is not true; later we find them again on a another island many miles south from Allens Cay.)

 

Allens Cay's iguanas with Fata Morgana

Allens Cay’s iguanas
with Fata Morgana

 

The lizards proliferate on the island thanks to the cruisers and the tourists who come here in big numbers every day brought by speed-boats to feed and photograph them. The biggest local attraction.

Tourists visiting the iguanas on Allens Cay.

Tourists visiting the iguanas on Allens Cay.

We wait for two days for most of the boats to leave, and visit the fat iguanas only when there are no tourists around, which is very rare.

Viktor and Mira with iguanas.

Viktor and Mira with iguanas.

 

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Mira and Viktor with iguanas
Allens Cay

 

A sign on the beach explains that the iguanas are wild and protected, approach them with caution and do not bring your dogs. But they are not really wild, if you ask me. They are like zoo animals used to people and entirely dependent on them for food. Only, they are not tame and one even bit Ivo mistakenly taking his pinky toe for a piece of bread. Since then, Ivo regarded them with mistrust and hostility.

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Soon, we get really disappointed with the place, thinking that the Exumas would be less crowded. The anchorage in front of the next island south, Highborne Cay, is literally full with boats; we count twenty at least, and not even sailboats but big luxurious mega-yachts, which bring with them all sorts of noisy contraptions for fun-having like jet-skis, inflatable air-chairs and speed banana-boats, and even tiny one-person inflatable submarines, and they just zoom around the anchorage all day. This great motorboat presence and activity we explain with the proximity of Nassau, about thirty miles northwest, and the holiday season.

Highborne Cay anchorage

Highborne Cay anchorage

We keep going south and only twelve miles later we find what we have been looking for: a protected anchorage where we are the only boat, an uninhabited island with channels formed by the tides cutting across the mangroves from west to east and vast sand flats in the middle exposed at low tide and flooded at high tide, a beautiful secluded place not even mentioned in the cruising guide (because there is no marina, no bar, and no ‘facilities’ there).

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Demons of The Forest. Owners of Trees

„And they climbed up to the top of the tree. But the tree begun to grow larger. It swelled in size. Thus when they wanted to come back down, One Batz and One Huen couldn’t climb down from the top of the tree.

Thus they went up into the tops of the trees there in the small mountains and the great mountains. They went out into the forests, howling and chattering loudly in the branches of the trees.“

-Popol Vuh

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You will hear them.

When the day and the night and the night and the day start to blend and the light becomes enchanted and purple, they begin to howl. They begin to cry, and to moan, and to roar, and to scream. You will hear, even when you are still miles away, the most heartbreaking cries, the most ominous moans, the most arrogant roars, the most melancholic screams. What wounded  animals -or demons – could be, you will ask yourself, capable of such violent sadness?

Only a few miles southwest of the town of El Estor a river enters Lake Izabal. El Rio Polochic, the biggest tributary to the biggest lake in Guatemala forks in a few smaller channels before reaching the lake to create a basin, vast and remote, of intimate hidden bays surrounded by flat swampy shores where dense grasses, bushes, and trees form an impenetrable green mass. The abundance of tropical vegetation is hysterical.

Fata Morgana, Friendship, and Blizzard anchored near Bocas de Polochic.

Fata Morgana, Friendship, and Blizzard anchored near Bocas de Polochic.

The three boats drop anchor in a little protected bay. Here every day is blessedly the same. There are no other people. Nothing moves. A place entirely devoid of civilization. This is one of the world’s most biodiverse areas. The waters of the delta are kingdom of fish, otters, manatees, and crocodiles. Its shores are home to coyotes, jaguars, sloths, and giant anteaters. The skies are patrolled by over 250 species of birds, among which herons, egrets, toucans, and parrots.

 A channel of Rio Polochic

A channel of Rio Polochic

But while all those creatures try, at all cost, to make themselves as elusive as possible: hiding hushed beneath the waters, behind the grasses and bushes, there are those who announce themselves from the top of the trees as „the seers upon the face of the earth“. At the break of day and just before the night falls, their screams knife the forest penetrating your chest to chill your blood. You might think, as i did, these are the voices of some huge ghostly creatures, abandoned, hurting beyond hope. Or you might think, as i did, they are fierce and mean, messengers of Satan, and are probably devouring somebody right now. Such are their howls: deep and sinister as if coming from hell. The howls of the Black Howler Monkeys of Guatemala.

Black Howler MOnkey

Black Howler Monkey

We would hear them at dawn and at dusk, never got quite used to their unholy cries. Later, I would miss them. The first evening of silence I kept listening for their violent moans, in vain. When we sailed away after three days, just a few miles south, to a place where indigenous Mayan people live on the shores of the lake, there were no more howler monkeys. They don’t share their territory with people. And their voices didn’t travel to this place.

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The first time we went upriver by dinghies and floated back downriver with the motors off, we saw them far in the distance. It was a last chance kind-of-thing before darkness fell and swallowed their shapes. We saw them, a group of about 10-12 up in the tree without leaves. Silhouettes sleeping upon the branches. Then the night came. And the enigma: How ware these creatures, not larger than dogs, capable of such loud screams?

A group of Howler Monkeys

A group of Howler Monkeys

„Howlers are New World monkeys found in tropical Central and South America. They are aptly named for their cacophonous cries. When a number of howlers let loose their lungs in concert, often at dawn or dusk, the din can be heard up to three miles (five kilometers) away. Male monkeys have large throats and specialized, shell-like vocal chambers that help to turn up the volume on their distinctive call. The noise sends a clear message to other monkeys: This territory is already occupied by a troop. These vocal primates are the biggest of all the New World monkeys. Unlike Old World monkeys, howlers and other New World species have wide, side-opening nostrils and no pads on their rumps. Howlers also boast a prehensile tail. They can use this tail as an extra arm to grip or even hang from branches—no Old World monkeys have such a tail. A gripping tail is particularly helpful to howler monkeys because they rarely descend to the ground. They prefer to stay aloft, munching on the leaves that make up most of their diet.“ (National Geographic)

Howler Monkeys chilling.

Howler Monkeys chilling.

The next day, we saw them again. We went kayaking for five hours upriver and floated back downriver with the gentle current, and a couple of howlers were chilling just above our heads, in a big tree. We looked at them, and they looked at us. To me, this first close encounter with the wild animals was like some sort of a miracle.

They looked annoyed by us, watching us with mistrust and disapproval. We were trespassing. One kept chewing leaves, stuffing them in his mouth with a very slow motion, returning my stare, telling me: „Move on, can’t you see I am trying to eat here in peace. This is my private branch. How would you feel if I came to your window to stare at you while you are having supper?“

Black Howler Monkeys eating leaves.

Black Howler Monkeys eating leaves.

He looked sad, mean, and ugly, I thought. His teeth yellow and crooked, his fur black, full of lice. His tale long and thick holding the branch like a dark tentacle. His mouth, incapable even of the slightest smile, endowed him with a bitter melancholic expression. But what impressed me the most were his eyes: wet, deep, full of secrets. His eyes were the eyes of someone who remembers the times, forever lost, when he was a prince. When he and his twin-brother were punished in a cruel act of revenge and banished to live in the tops of the trees, in the small mountains and the great mountains, never to return to the world of men.

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