Tuesday, 27 April 2010


About two weeks ago I received a call from a friend of mine who works at the Pietermaritzburg SPCA. In her office was a young African man, Linda, who said he had a small, female Vervet monkey at home who was sick and he wanted, a), to have it treated at the SPCA and, b) to get a permit to keep her. My friend knew that if the monkey arrived at the SPCA the owner would be advised to hand her over to the SPCA, and as had happened to a similarly aged pet Vervet a few weeks previously, she would be euthanised. So she phoned and asked me to explain to Linda the procedure for having the Vervet permitted by the provincial conservation authorities.

She put Linda on the line and after spending a few minutes explaining to him that he would under no circumstances be issued a permit to keep the Vervet, that the Vervet would start showing aggressive behaviour that would result in him having to cage-confine her permanently, and that it was not in the Vervets best interests to be deprived the opportunity of being introduced to other Vervets under controlled conditions, he agreed to meet us the next day to hand the monkey into our care.

The next day, which was April 16, 2010, Carol and I met Linda at a prearranged time and place and drove him to his home in Thembalihle outside Pietermaritzburg. As we stopped outside his home, a young monkey tumbled over the door and came bouncing up the bank and onto the fence next to the gate to greet Linda. We guessed her age at about sixteen to eighteen months. Linda reached down and said, “Woza”, and she immediately clambered up his arm and snuggled into his neck. I think Carol and I both had a lump in our throats as we realized that this happiness would soon turn to sadness for both of them as we wrenched her away and left them both devastated. But isn’t that almost always the way it is when we keep wild animals as pets?

We took some photos of Linda and Bongo, as we learnt she had been named. Then as gently as I could I pried Bongo off Linda and wrapped her safely in a towel for Carol to hold as we drove away. Just before we left, Linda, with tears in his eyes, listening to Bongo’s cries of anguish and fear, asked one last time if I would promise to take good care of the little monkey. I gave my word, and at the same time an intense anger overwhelmed me as I visualized the tragic outcome for Bongo had Linda handed her into the “care” of the SPCA in Pietermaritzburg the day before, and the devastating heartbreak and sense of betrayal that would have flooded over Linda. I resolved to put extra effort into informing members of the public of the NSPCA policies relating to primates that are taken into the control of SPCA branches country-wide.

Once away from there we put Bongo into a transport box for both her and our comfort. It was then we realized why Linda had wanted to have her treated by a vet. She suddenly had a seizure which was preceded by screams of what must have been terror or pain and lay on the bottom of the box quivering. It took about five to ten minutes for her to recover sufficiently to sit up and then she kept up a constant chatter of anxiety. This was understandable considering that Linda and his family were her “troop” and being a juvenile, and a female at that, separation from her “troop” was a frightening experience experience.

Once at home we transferred Bongo from the transport box to a holding cage where she could see some of the other young monkeys in our care. It will take a while for her to relax and start feeling comfortable with us, but we are patient and prepared to give her all the time and care she needs, and hopefully she can soon be introduced to other ex-pet monkeys whose only future lies in a sanctuary. It is highly unlikely that Bongo will ever be released into the wild!

But how did Linda actually get Bongo?

Linda says that towards the end of 2008 he was living in Panorama outside Pietermaritzburg. He happened to pass some men who had cornered a mother monkey with her baby still clinging to her and who were throwing stones at the mother monkey trying to kill her so they could eat her. One of the stones knocked Bongo off her mother who managed to escape. Bongo was unconscious from the blow to her head and the men were about to toss her into the bush, saying she was too small for them to eat, when Linda asked them if he could have her.

For two days baby Bongo was in a coma, but then she started slowly regaining consciousness. Linda cared for her diligently, feeding her on human baby milk formula with a small feeding bottle he especially bought for her. She lived in his home as one of the family, loved and pampered by everyone in the household. Her favourite foods were banana, apple and pear.

On three separate occasions the wild monkeys that came around Linda’s home attacked and bit Bongo. One of these attacks was by a large, lone male and she was severely injured. But she learnt to hide in the house when the monkeys came by and Linda and family then moved to Thembalihle where there are no other monkeys. She was a familiar sight to the locals and every day the children living close by would come to visit and feed her. When I phoned Linda later that first evening to tell him that Bongo was safe and comfortable, he said that the children had just been to visit Bongo and were saddened to learn that she had been taken away by us.

The moment we drove away from Linda with Bongo wrapped in a towel and held against Carol’s chest, that little money started a journey that will see her become a real monkey, with real monkeys as her family and even though it is unlikely, though not impossible, that she will ever join a rehabilitation programme, she will live the best life possible in a sanctuary where she will be bonded with other Vervets who for various reasons cannot be released to the wild but who deserve to be given a chance at life!

PS. The National Council of SPCA’s has a policy which states that any indigenous primate, but particularly Vervet Monkeys and Baboons, that come into the hands of any SPCA in South Africa, and who cannot be released back to the wild within five days or be sent to an SPCA-accredited rehabilitation facility, MUST BE EUTHANISED at that SPCA or at the vet used by that SPCA. So, if you want to be sure that the monkey or baboon you have rescued or cared for is given the best chance of being properly rehabilitated or placed in a reputable sanctuary, don’t just presume that this will happen if you surrender the animal to your local SPCA. Rather contact the Monkey Helpline first and we will assist and advise you in order to ensure the most ethically acceptable outcome for the animal!

In a future blog posting I will unpack the NSPCA’s reasoning that led to its adoption of the policy that would have resulted in the euthanasia of Bongo had Linda surrendered her to the Pietermaritzburg SPCA!

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