Thursday, 04 September 2008

Education a vital tool in saving monkeys!

When writing up the daily Monkey Helpline rescue diary it is easy to get so caught up with the drama of actual rescues that we easily forget the equally important educational aspect of what the Monkey Helpline does. Fact is, that no matter how many monkeys we rescue, we will not drastically reduce the incidence of cruelty and violence against monkeys unless we change the way people think about monkeys. And this we do through the handing out of educational leaflets, and talks to schools, activity groups, Metro Police cadets, conservation and animal welfare NGO's, groups of honorary conservation officers, veterinarians and many others. In doing these talks we always try to do a PowerPoint slide-show because of the impact that the images have on the viewers. Its one thing talking about monkeys generally, but when the audience is watching images of animals who we have actually rescued, and can see the actual injuries, and we can talk about our experiences relating to that particular animal, it really gets their attention and sympathy.

Rescues also provide a good opportunity to speak to people at the site where a monkey was injured and/or rescued. Just seeing close up the trauma suffered by the monkey, and the effort the rescuers go to in order to catch and care for the animal, makes a huge impact on many of the people watching the rescue and can seriously and positively alter their thinking about monkeys.

A hidden dimension of the Monkey Helpline's daily activities is the phone calls or emails from people who are having problems with monkeys. Most of these people wish the monkeys no harm, and all they want is advice from Carol or me on how to keep the monkeys out of their house and garden. A brief chat over the phone or by email, and sending them a copy of our leaflet, "Vervet monkeys: What you need to know",is usually sufficient for these callers.

But then you get those folk who say they really dislike the monkeys and all they want is for us to come and remove the whole troop and dump it far away, failing which they will "be driven to shooting or poisoning the whole lot". This is the point at which you curse your enthusiasm in answering your partner's cellphone to give them time to dry their hands or swallow the mouthful of food they had just taken! In most cases this tendency by some callers to threaten violence against the monkeys is born of frustration at not knowing how to deal with the "problem" that confronts them. So, with heroic wads of patience in allowing the caller to offload their anger and sometimes "hatred" of monkeys, you explain how you absolutely understand why they feel about monkeys the way they do, but that they don't have to feel that way, and then start giving them the advice they need, and surprisingly often there is a metamorphosis in their attitude. This proves the point that most people who "dislike/hate" the monkeys do so out of fear or intolerance based on ignorance and a sense of helplessness. Give them the tools they need, in his case "knowledge", to deal with their "problem" humanely, and suddenly what was an unscaleable mountain for them becomes a manageable hill.

And so it is that the genuine monkey haters are way, way in the minority, yet they do have an enormous impact on the lives of monkeys as they deliberately harm and kill these little animals for no justifiable reason. You only have to look at the number of monkeys rescued by us with lead pellets in their bodies to realise that even though monkey haters are a minority, they exist in sufficient numbers to be of serious concern to us.

Just think about it. If you have forty households in a single street, some of who have problems with monkeys but opt not to harm them, and you have only one person in the street who shoots the monkeys with a pellet gun each time they come near his home, that single person can devastate the entire troop over a relatively short period of time. And in doing so causes indescribable pain, suffering and frequently death to the affected monkeys.

And just as bad as the shooting is for the monkeys, so is the attitude of the neighbours who know who is doing the shooting but won't do anything about it because they don't want to sour relations with the shooter. As Carol always says about this: "Who wants to maintain good relations with a neighbour who cruelly harms the animals you claim to love, or at least care about? Would you want to maintain such good relations with a neighbour who shot your child with a pellet gun? Something doesn't quite make sense here."

Back to rescues. A few days ago I wrote about injured adult male Vervets, and how we decide whether of not to attempt a rescue. Well, no day is complete in the lives of the Monkey Helpline rescue team if we don't get at least one call from someone concerned about a "badly" injured male monkey.

And so on Spring Day, September 1st, our first call of the day was from an old friend of the monkeys to say that a huge male Vervet who had been visiting her home in Malvern, Durban regularly for years, always on his own and gentle as anything, had arrived with his one eye totally removed. After establishing from her that he was otherwise fit and healthy and seemed to be coping well with only one eye, we asked her to monitor him and to contact us immediately if she thought he was in trouble due to his injury.

We see a surprisingly high number of rescued Vervets with a blind eye, and we always wonder if the loss of an eye contributes to the monkey being injured and so having to be rescued, especially in cases of injury by another monkey, a dog or a motor car.

Then our last rescue call of the day was from a resident of Mount Edgecombe Country Club Estate, scene of the current National Geographic series on Vervets, "Street Monkeys". From the caller's description we knew that this monkey needed to be seen by a vet. When we arrived at the caller's home she was sitting less than a meter from the monkey, a young adult male, who seemed comfortable enough sitting and eating the food she was handing him as per our request in order to keep him from moving off before we arrived. As Carol and I approached, the monkey moved off a meter or so and it was immediately obvious that there was something seriously wrong with his pelvis, most probably the result of being hit by a car. We quickly caught him and rushed off to Riverside Veterinary Clinic where Dr Kerry Easson took X-rays. No surprises when the X-ray showed that he had a broken pelvis. Nor were we surprised by the X-ray image of the six lead pellets in his body. The upmarket estate where we caught him is marketed as an eco-estate, yet we regularly find monkeys injured or killed there by people using pellet guns with total disregard for the suffering they are responsible for. (We'll deal with this in an upcoming posting!)

Unlucky to have been shot six times. Unlucky to have been struck by a motor car. Lucky to have been spotted by an observant and caring person who called the Monkey Helpline. Lucky to have been caught and taken to a good vet. Lucky to be in the Monkey Helpline high care unit run by Carol while he recovers and can then be released back to his troop. And hopefully the outcome of an urgent meeting we have set up with the Mount Edgecombe Country Club Estate manager will lead to action that will effectively address the problem of monkeys being shot with pellet guns on the estate. Six pellets in the body are half-a-dozen more than is healthy for any monkey to have to live with!

NB. Four out of five episodes of the series, "Street Monkeys", currently being screened on National Geographic Wildlife Channel, feature a number of rescues by, and interviews with, coordinators of the Monkey Helpline.

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