Monday, 18 July 2011


One thing about this business of monkey rescue is that you can be quite sure that you will constantly be challenged to do the almost impossible as a routine part of your daily rescue effort.
One such situation confronted us last Tuesday afternoon, July 12, when we responded to an impassioned plea for help from our veterinarian, Dr Kerry Easson.

Working in her Durban North garden on her day off, Kerry’s attention was drawn to a monkey’s agitated chattering beyond her front hedge. Curious, she went out into the road to see what all the fuss was about and saw an adult female Vervet monkey peering into the storm water drain in the centre of the t-junction intersection close by. Kerry went to the drain and peered through the circular, perforated cast-iron drain cover. She could hardly believe what she saw – a small baby Vervet monkey perched on the stepping rung near the top of the two-and-half meter deep manhole.

Totally flummoxed as to how the monkey had got there, Kerry did the first thing that came to mind - she called Monkey Helpline!

Carol and I jumped into our vehicle and rushed from Westville to Durban North as fast as we could considering we had to negotiate afternoon rush hour traffic made worse by faulty traffic lights and disorganized road works.

We arrived to find an agitated Kerry tapping her wrist watch at us as if to say, “what kept you?”, and a small crowd of curious onlookers and wannabe helpers. It was a relief to see Doug Fairall there. Doug is a friend and feral cat catcher supreme and together we had previously had experiences involving cats rescued from similar situations as this one we now faced with the little monkey.

One look at the tightly set, very heavy cast iron drain cover and we knew that our efforts would be wasted without the necessary heavy duty equipment which we were certain must be a normal part of the Metro water workers’ issued “tool box”.

But we decided to try and lift the lid ourselves before troubling the overworked Metro storm water standby team. Very soon we realized that we would have more success trying to lift the lid on South Africa’s arms deal corruption allegations. Desperate to get the monkey out so that we could reunite her with mommy Vervet who was anxiously waiting in a nearby tree top and keeping a protective eye on proceedings before the fading daylight forced her to follow her troop to their sleeping location, we decided to call out the relevant Metro work team. Calls to Metro water got no response other than unanswered ringing. Calls to the emergency services, however, got an immediate response and in no time a big, bright yellow Fire and Accident Emergency truck arrived with a friendly and willing emergency rescue team. Our joy was short lived when we realized that all they could offer was a bigger crow-bar than the one we had. Their best efforts were to no avail, proving the adage that "bigger isn’t always better" and so, sincerely apologetic at being unable to assist, they departed – with their crow-bar - and a promise to get hold of Metro storm water.

Regularly, as we tried to devise a plan to free the trapped monkey, we could see her small arms and hands stick up through the vents in the drain cover as if beckoning her mother to come and fetch her, and her frightened cries echoed upwards. As soon as it became dark the little monkey stopped calling for her mom and just sat hunched over in depressed acceptance of her fate. With all the banging and clanking, caused by our efforts to lift the drain cover, the little monkey never lifted her head, not even with the constant interference of torchlight being shone into the drain to see if she had moved into one of the connecting drain pipes to escape the noisy activity above her.

Hours, and many frustratingly unproductive phone calls, later we finally had the satisfaction of seeing the Metro Storm Water standby team arriving in their truck. But once again our hopes were dashed when they too offered a crow-bar as the tool of the moment. We could not believe that no special lifting device existed that would easily lift out the stubborn drain cover. So vociferously did we dismiss their offer of a crow bar that they offered to bring a “jack-hammer” to break out the entire cast iron drain top. Thanks, but no thanks! Imagine the terror in that small monkey sitting in the confines of a man hole with a jack-hammer beating the hell out of the road above.

Then sanity prevailed and the shift supervisor, now alerted to the goings on, agreed to come on site and offer the benefit of his experience. Even before arriving he authorized a crane truck to come on site and lift up the drain cover. As the crane truck arrived we knew that the little monkey would soon be safely out of that drain.

Half an hour later, it was already 7.30 pm, the crane lifted the drain cover out of the bed it had been so reluctant to leave. There had been a few frustrating moments when the steel rods, hooked into the drain cover and attached to the crane hook, bent open under strain as if made of plastic, but once these were replaced with heavy duty chains the drain cover came out with surprising ease.

And through all of this commotion the little monkey still huddled over as if by keeping her eyes closed and her back to the world above she would remain safe until her mom could rescue her in the morning. She was easily grabbed and passed into the safe and comforting arms of Carol, a full three-and-a-half hours after we first saw her frightened little face looking up at us from inside the drain. Only then did we realize how tiny she was, probably no older than six months, and covered in small cuts and healing injuries all over her little body.

For the next week or so the little monkey, named Kerry after our vet who first drew our attention to her plight, will stay in the Monkey Helpline "high care". An on-site veterinary check-up showed that she had no physical injuries from her ordeal in the storm water drain but could not discount the possibility of an ailment that might have driven her into the road water run-off drain in the first place. Once Carol is happy that Kerry monkey is healthy and ready to be released, we’ll take her back to where we rescued her and try and reintroduce her to her mother.

Kerry monkey can owe her life to alertness of vet Kerry and the combined efforts and compassion of a whole bunch of people.

What a rescue!!

Pics - Top to bottom:

1 The two-and-half meter deep storm water drain out of which the baby monkey was rescued.

2 Carol takes a hands-on approach in affixing the chains that did the trick.

3 Newly rescued Kerry monkey cuddles safely iunto Carol

4 A relieved, but proud, rescue team with Dr Kerry Easson (green theatre pants left front) and Durban Metro supervisor, Ishen Sukai (extreme right). Ishen's wife, Venesha, and young daughter, Shradda, came along to witness the operation that had called them all away from the comfort of home.

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