Wednesday, 11 May 2011


This post is largely the article submitted to, and published in, three KZN community newspapers this past week. Its purpose is to explain the mating season behaviour currently prevalent in Vervet monkey troops, as adult males joust for position and beat off those opportunistic males who want access to females, and to emphasise that this behaviour, loud and apparently aggressive as it is, should be of no concern to humans. It is totally monkey focused:

Vervet monkey mating season is here and the result is that there is more squabbling, more fighting and lots of monkeys, particularly mature males, with severe injuries. The consequence of all of this is a huge amount of additional work for Monkey Helpline rescuers.

Steve Smit, joint co-ordinator with Carol Booth of Monkey Helpline, says that many people become very nervous of monkeys when they see the aggression and ugly injuries that are so prevalent during mating season. “But they have nothing to be concerned about”, says Steve. “All the aggression and posturing is amongst the monkeys themselves and does not translate into any aggression towards humans or their companion animals.”

Carol says that at this time of year Monkey Helpline experiences a marked increase in phone calls from concerned members of the public. “They see and hear the fighting, and also see badly injured and bleeding monkeys, and are concerned for the safety of their children and dogs, believing that they too are in danger of being attacked by an aggressive monkey. Fortunately the monkeys are only focused on the issues around mating and status within their troop and have no interest in humans or other animals.”

“We do also get lots of calls from people who are concerned about the well being of the injured monkeys”, says Steve. “ The injuries that some of the monkeys sustain can be extremely bad and to the untrained eye they look life threatening, which they often are. Interestingly enough, most people think that these monkeys have been shot or bitten by a dog. But monkey-inflicted injuries are easily recognized because their razor sharp teeth inflict injuries that resemble a scalpel cut. Once inflicted the injury often gapes and looks very bad. Our dilemma is deciding which calls we respond to and which we don’t. We can’t possibly go out and rescue every monkey who gets injured during these confrontations. We don’t have the capacity to do this, but it is also not always necessary. Monkeys have amazing healing capacity and recover from the most unbelievable injuries. However, we also know that an injury that looks minor can result in an infection, even tetanus, and cause the death of the monkey. It is never an easy decision to make but it is something we do every day. When someone phones in out of concern for a monkey, we have a series of pertinent questions we ask. Based on what we are told we then decide whether to go and carry out the rescue or not. If there is any doubt we will always go out to see for ourselves and then make the decision whether or not we’ll catch and treat the monkey.”

Carol believes that the mating season aggression between urban monkeys is far greater than amongst monkeys living in more natural areas. “Urban monkeys are under ongoing stress because of constant harassment. People don’t realize that monkeys are not invading our living space. Wherever we see them in our suburbs it is because they are in their traditional territory that has been drastically changed by human occupation and development. They have been here for many generations and have been subjected to increasing persecution, both deliberate and unintentional. Destruction of natural habitat, being chased and attacked by dogs, being shot at and chased from one property to the next by homeowners, having to cross dangerous roads, encountering razor wire and electric fencing, and much more has left urban Vervet monkeys on edge, and as a result of this the fights that take place between monkeys are more intense and frequent than would be the case if they were less stressed and had fewer dangers to deal with. Domestic dogs are predators and kill far more monkeys in urban areas than are killed by natural predators in the wild. In urban areas, as monkeys go about their daily foraging, they encounter a lethal predator in the form of a domestic dog virtually every fifteen to twenty meters. Their mortality rate is much higher than would be the case if they were living in a more natural environment, which is why urban troops of monkeys are much smaller than troops in the wild, and are in fact steadily decreasing in size from one year to the next.”

Steve and Carol are heartened by the fact that most people wish the monkeys no harm, and once their fears about monkeys have been allayed they become far more tolerant of the presence of these little animals. “Very few people actually wish monkeys any harm, and even fewer still will deliberately harm them”, says Carol. “We offer free advice to anyone who is having problems with monkeys around their home or at schools, etc, and we do many educational talks throughout the year. Monkeys are amazing animals and it takes just a little time and effort to ensure that they are not an intolerable nuisance. What monkeys need more than anything else is your understanding of who they are, why they behave the way they do, and what you should and shouldn't do when they are around.”

Both Steve and Carol ask that members of the public understand that they are full-time volunteers doing this work out of love for monkeys and also to help people who are experiencing "problems" with the presence of monkeys.

“We get many calls every day for assistance and advice, or from people reporting an injured monkey, so we have to prioritize what we will deal with first”, says Carol. “Obviously someone needing advice or assistance is rarely, if ever, more important than a rescue, so if we must decide what to attend to first, the rescue wins hands down, and then we get to the advice or assistance as soon as we are able to after the rescue. Unfortunately it is not uncommon for callers to threaten to shoot or poison the monkeys if we don’t respond immediately in the way they expect. These callers get told in no uncertain terms what will happen to them if they do act on their threats. We also have to put up with verbal abuse and even threats of violence from people who believe that we are responsible for their problems with monkeys or because we don’t drop everything in order to give them our undivided attention. Many people erroneously believe that we are paid by the authorities to do this work and so expect us to provide an immediate service that is paid for by their taxes. Other than our personal funding of the Monkey Helpline, our only financial support comes in the form of small, random donations from the public.”

Pics top to bottom:

Top - A brave adult male Vervet monkey threatens Monkey Helpline rescuers as they pick up a twelve week old baby Vervet lying next to the road in Havenside, Chatsworth after being hit by a speeding car. He was supported by the mother Vervet and most of the troop members. When the healthy baby was returned to her mother at the same location two weeks later, this male was equally protective. On both occasions Carol was able to keep the entire troop of monkeys at bay simply by shaking and flicking a towel at them.

Middle - This adult male Vervet monkey spent eight months with Monkey Helpline recovering after the amputation of his left leg - carried out by veterinarian, Dr Kerry Easson - after a bad injury to his foot led to severe infection in much of the bone in that leg. He was released in Cowies Hill at the same place he was originally rescued, but three weeks later he was back on the very exercise cage in our garden where he had spent months regaining his strength and agility. He has become a fully integrated member of our free ranging wild troop and visits our home with them almost every day. He shows no resentment towards us for the months of incarceration, medication and injections we forced on him.

Bottom - Monkeys visiting our garden enjoy snacks in the company of a hen and an Egyptian goose. They are frequently joined by a number of our rescued cats who enjoy the brown bread we mix with the snacks given to the monkeys. Not once has there been any aggressive behaviour by the monkeys towards the birds or the cats!

Tuesday, 03 May 2011

Don't judge a book by it's cover

As I write these posts I am always mindful of the need to present as much of the positive as is possible in a situation that is really dire as far as Vervet monkeys are concerned. Believe me, this is not an easy task, but in order to retain one’s sanity and be able to find the strength to get up each morning and face the tragedy that you know will hit you right between the eyes and without warning, you cling to the positives and use them as beacons of light as you navigate through the ever present darkness of pain and death that characterizes Vervet monkey rescue and care.

At Monkey Helpline we deal with over seven hundred rescue call-outs every year. As each rescue drama unfolds it is indelibly imprinted in your mind, and such is the effect on subconscious memory that hardly a night passes without a dramatic dream about Vervets. Hardly ever are these dreams pleasant!

And yet, as alluded to earlier, there are positives. I suppose the most pleasantly surprising positive, yet least dramatic, is finding out every day how many people actually love and care for Vervets, or are intrigued and fascinated by them. Everywhere we go we meet these people and they far outnumber the “I hate those invasive, dirty creatures”-brigade. Which is why Monkey Helpline has started on a membership drive calling on all fair-minded, caring and compassionate people to show visible support for the monkeys by becoming a member of Monkey Helpline (there is no membership or joining fee) or any other monkey-care organization. (See recent blog post – “Vervets need your help” - for details on how to become a member)

Now I have to share this with you. Often as we drive around doing a rescue, looking for a monkey, leafleting an area where there are suspected shooters or people are having so-called “monkey problems”, we see people in their cars or gardens who look for all the world as if they could be the shooter or monkey-hater. Just something about their face or demeanor! Well, as you have read in the most recent post prior to this one, a monkey was shot with a bow and arrow by some moral retard in Scottburgh South. In our efforts to locate and trap the injured monkey, we met Adri and Koos in whose garden the troop of monkeys containing the arrow-shot monkey spend time very day. So obviously we knew this would be an ideal place for our trap.

It was an absolute education spending that first afternoon with these two wonderful people in the hope that we would manage to trap Tweeter, as this monkey was known to them. There was this middle-aged couple surrounded by thirty-plus monkeys of all ages and genders, sharing out treats amongst the monkeys and interacting with each one individually as if he or she were a loved member of the family. Adri and Koos called each monkey by name, respected each one’s unique personality and knew who was who’s mother, child or sibling. And so much more!

But Adri and Koos are not unique. We meet good folk like them frequently. But what was unique was seeing Koos amongst the monkeys. Unique because if I had driven past Koos standing in his garden or in front of his house on the verge, I would definitely have made the assumption that here was undoubtedly, at best, a monkey hater or, at worst, a monkey shooter. Why? Well, if you met Koos you would understand why at first glance I would guess that Koos, a retired police dog handler, was a shooter and not a lover of monkeys. Which once again proves that appearances can be deceiving! Very deceiving! Far from hating monkeys, Koos loves them and I had this huge grin inside of me as I listened to Koos telling me how people need to catch a wake up and respect the fact that Vervets occupied the suburbs we now claim as our own, long before the first house or road was built there. Similar sentiments voiced by Adri served to confirm that for as long as these two Vervet monkey guardians reside in Scottburgh South, the monkey haters need to tread carefully. Hearing Koos talk to the monkeys in lyrical and loving tones, calling “his babies” by endearingly affectionate names, is really something special, and I shudder to think what side of Koos the shooter of Tweeter might experience if Koos gets to him before the police do!

So, if you ever happen to be in Scottburgh South, and you see a large, proudly moustached man with a troop of Vervets in close attendance, look and listen carefully, and you too will leave with a big grin inside of you and you will draw comfort from knowing that as long as he is there, that troop of Vervets is about as safe as a troop can be in a suburb that is also the home of at least one sick person who believes it is okay to shoot an arrow through a monkey’s body in a sadistic attempt to kill it!


Top pic - Female Vervet monkey, Mommy One-eye, with her most recent baby happily and safely enjoying a snack provided by Adri and Koos.

Bottom pic - Tweeter before the arrow was unexpectedly pulled from his body. Latest news from Adri and Koos today, 3 May, is that Tweeter still vists every day and is looking strong and healthy despite his brush with death.

Monday, 02 May 2011

Monkey shot with bow and arrow in Scottburgh South

This post starts with a letter sent to, and published in, the Mid-South Coast Mail on 13 April this year. The letter follows:

Dear Editor,

This is an urgent plea from Monkey Helpline to residents of Scottburgh South for assistance in
locating a critically injured adult male Vervet monkey.

Today, April 11, we were called to Ann Arbour Road where a resident had the horrifying experience of seeing this male monkey with a red and yellow, flighted arrow protruding from both sides of the body. The monkey was trying to drink water from her swimming pool. By the time we arrived in Scottburgh from Westville the monkey had moved off. After searching for a
while we sighted the monkey lying over a branch in a tree across the road.

In obvious pain the monkey would not respond to our attempts to lure him down to our trap and we had to think of other ways to capture him. At that point the only method of capture that might have been successful was through the use of a tranquilizing dart.

It took us over two and a half hours to locate a vet capable of darting the monkey and willing to assist us. Unfortunately just as the vet was preparing to fire the dart, the monkey, who hadn't moved for over two hours, looked down, saw what was about to happen and fled through the trees. An exhaustive search for the monkey proved fruitless.

We appeal to anyone who sees this monkey to please call us on 0826594711 or 0824115444. We also appeal to anyone who might know the person who shot the monkey or is aware of a neighbor using a bow and arrow in that area to share this information with us.

A last word for the shooter; "If we do not catch this monkey soon, he will die a slow and agonizing death. So when you go to bed tonight imagine how you would feel if you were lying there with a spear stuck through your body, with no pain relief, no antibiotics, hungry, thirsty and unable to sleep because of the unrelenting pain wracking your body. You are undoubtedly a cruel and sadistic coward and we will find you and you will be prosecuted ! ".


Update: Last weekend Tweeter, amazingly still alive and seemingly healthy, arrow protruding grotesquely through his body, entered a Monkey Helpline trap left at a home where he was loved, fed and relaxed. Unfortunately he managed to avoid being trapped but as he backed out of the trap the arrow got stuck in the side wire and pulled out of his body. The arrow remained in the trap but Tweeter is running free. He has been seen almost every day and still seems in good health. Expert veterinary opinion is that the arrow must have missed all vital organs and blood vessels and that there is a good chance that Tweeter will survive without veterinary intervention.

Today, 2 May, Monkey Helpline submitted the following article for publication in this week's Mid-South Coast Mail:

Reward offered

A reward has been offered for information leading to the arrest and successful prosecution of the person or persons involved in the recent bow and arrow shooting of Tweeter, the Scottburgh South male Vervet monkey.

Monkey Helpline spokesperson, Steve Smit, says his organisation is offering a R1000 reward for any information that will enable the organization to seek justice for Tweeter and all the other monkeys who are constantly the victims of human acts of violence. “We are an NGO and entirely volunteer driven so do not have the resources to offer a larger reward. However, we believe that someone out their knows who shot Tweeter and is just waiting for the right moment or incentive to share that information with us so that charges can be laid in terms of the Animal Protection Act. Anyone wanting to increase the incentive by adding to the reward can contact this newspaper. The many Scottburgh South residents who know Tweeter for his gentle and relaxed demeanor are incensed by this senseless act of violence against him. Like us, they want to see the perpetrator arrested and charged ”.

Steve says that although the incidence of monkeys being shot at with pellet guns, catapults, paintball guns and bows results in a high number of injuries and death, the people doing this are relatively few in number. “Unfortunately, it takes only one heartless person or irresponsible child in your street, complex or neighbourhood to shoot at monkeys every time they are able to and the results are disastrous for the monkeys. The consequences are pain and tremendous suffering, and often a lingering death over weeks. Over eighty percent of all monkeys rescued by Monkey Helpline have got lead pellets in their bodies, a terrible statistic considering we do over seven hundred rescues every year”.

And the shooting of Tweeter with a bow and arrow was not an isolated incident. According to Steve he has been told of a number of monkeys found with arrows through their bodies, and has had personal experience of quite a few of them over the years. “Recently we trapped a male Vervet in Waterfall near Hillcrest with an arrow through his arm. The arrow smashed the bone just above the elbow joint and only excellent work by our vet, Dr Kerry Easson, saved his arm. The monkey was successfully released back to his troop two months later. We have even rescued a Hadeda with an arrow right through his body, and last year we found an arrow on our lawn next to our monkey exercise cages”.

“On another occasion, after we had completed an educational talk about monkeys at a primary school, we were approached by a pupil who tearfully told us that her dad had recently shot two monkeys in their Kloof garden with his bow and arrow. She said her dad had put down food on the lawn for the monkeys and whilst they were huddled around the food eating it, he shot at them. She said the arrow went through two of the monkeys and they both died. He just put them in a black bag and left them outside for the refuse collection. I asked if the monkeys were a problem to her family and she said they all loved the monkeys so she doesn’t know why her dad shot them”.

Steve appealed to people who are troubled by the presence of monkeys not to harm them, but rather to get in touch with Monkey Helpline for advice and assistance. “At worst monkeys can be a nuisance, but they are not dangerous and only very rarely, after extreme provocation have they been known to bite in self-defence. So, unless you literally grab hold of a monkey, or your dog catches and bites a monkey, you or your dog are not in any danger of being bitten”.

Monkey Helpline offers free advice on how to deal humanely with an unwanted monkey presence. “There is no reason to ever hurt a monkey”, says Steve. “And once we explain why monkeys are here, that there is no monkey overpopulation, that monkeys don’t attack and bite people or pets, that here has never been a recorded case of rabies in a Vervet monkey in South Africa and that monkeys are a very important part of our natural environment, most people have a better understanding of, and attitude towards, them. All it takes is a bit of tolerance and understanding. The monkeys were here long before we were, and they have nowhere else to go”!

Pics top down:

Top pic: Tweeter photographed a week after he was shot with the arrow, and a week before the arrow got stuck in the trap and pulled out of his body.

Middle pic: The trap with the arrow still in it after Tweeter managed to avoid getting caught.

Bottom pic: This stunning adult male Vervet shot though his arm by an unknown person in Waterfall near Hillcrest. The pic shows him under sedation at the veterinary clinic prior to removal of the arrow and pinning of the smashed bone.