Saturday, 17 March 2012

Vervet Monkeys and Chacma Baboons - Who they are, and What they are not!!

Below is a reworked presentation I made at the University of Cape Town in October 2007. I believe it is important for everyone to know that vivisection (animal based research and product testing) is alive and well in South Africa and that wild caught Vervet Monkeys and Chacma Baboons are amongst the innocent victims of this officially sanctioned cruelty.

Today I am going to tell you something of who these two species of animals are, and what they are not. I have deliberately not referred to any scientific papers or other formal studies about non-human primates, because I am of the unwavering belief that every individual of every species of non-human primate is a sentient being who should be respected, appreciated and protected against harm wherever possible. Unfortunately this fact is mostly ignored in scientific studies where they are seen not as individuals – each with inherent value who exists in his /her own right and for his/her own reasons, and whose value is not reducible to whatever form of commodity-related value ( such as science tool, source of food or entertainment, etc) we humans conveniently attach to these fascinating animals - but rather they are seen as commodities, things, given numbers and not names!

As Michele (Michele Pickover, at the time one of the Trustees of Animal Rights Africa and long-standing anti-vivisection activist) has stated so accurately during her presentation, and I quote what you have already heard:

“Primates are highly intelligent social animals who live in the wild and have large home ranges covering a rich and varied habitat in which they display a complex range of behaviours. Confining them in laboratories and using them in experiments causes them an immense amount of suffering which is totally unacceptable.

Other primates share with us many morally relevant capacities that were once thought unique to humans. There is very powerful evidence that animals throughout the order of mammals, at the least, are conscious of their pain, pleasures, appetites and emotions, as well as being conscious of the outside world. Monkeys, as well as apes and humans, 'know what they know and remember' and also 'know when they forget'. They communicate meaning as well as emotion in their vocalisations; understand and use abstract symbols; mentally represent numbers; undertake problem-solving; constantly make decisions; comprehend cause and effect; form concepts and have desires; observe and interpret the gaze of other individuals, and practice deception. There are strong, affectionate bonds between individuals, particularly mothers and offspring, and maternal siblings, that may persist throughout life. They show emotions clearly similar to those we label happy, sad, angry, and depressed. They have a sense of self and a sense of humour. Like us, they can be aggressive and even brutal or compassionate and altruistic.

Like us, they are able to remember past events and anticipate and fear future experiences – such as pain. These attributes are morally significant because they show that other primates are harmed not only by physical pain, but also by mental and emotional distress - such as is caused by a barren environment, frustration, restraint or social isolation and the presence, or anticipation, of something fearful or painful.”

I must admit to having a fascination with non-human primates in general, as I do with all animals, wild and domestic. However, probably because non-human-primates behave in so many ways, and do so many things, that we humans can understand and identify with merely by watching them as they deal with all aspects of life that confront them each day, I also identify with the many threats they face each day to their safety and well-being, and I am compelled to do whatever I am capable of to actively defend and protect them against all the injustices perpetrated against them by humans. This is why, after having been involved with primate-related issues since 1984 when I was Chairperson of the Durban branch of what is now known as the Wildlife and Environment Society of Southern Africa (WESSA), I was in 1995 compelled to start the Monkey Helpline in KwaZulu-Natal. Often throughout one’s life you look back and ask, “why did I take so long to do something? Why did I not do that much sooner? Well, I have asked myself these questions a zillion times as I go about Monkey Helpline activities every day, because every day I see things being done to baboons and monkeys in South Africa that make my stomach turn, and not least of these is what happens to monkeys and baboons who are unfortunate enough to end up as subjects of some or other research.

As I speak, the provincial conservation authority in KZN, Ezemvelo KwaZulu-Natal Wildlife (EKZNW), is preparing for the final public meeting that will lead to the adoption of a new management policy for all captive primates in the province – the conclusion of a process that has taken four years (now completed). And it is a process that resulted from pressure by individuals and organisations such as Monkey Helpline, concerned about the lowly status afforded primates in the province, which lowly status gave more rights to people who wanted to kill primates or use them for research or confine them in zoos than to people who wanted to protect and care for them. In fact, the existing provincial conservation Ordinance actually states that only research institutions and zoos may be permitted to keep indigenous primates. The Ordinance sets no animal welfare standards, no duty to care, relating to the capture, confinement and care of these highly intelligent and demanding animals – something which will be a very important component of the new management policy. In drafting this policy via a process of stakeholder meetings, one of the controversial aspects that needed to be dealt with was the use of Vervets and Chacmas, in fact all primates, in biomedical and other research, collectively called vivisection. What I found both fascinating and disturbing was that whilst most of those involved with this process knew of the use of primates in vivisection, hardly any of them had considered that this also affected the indigenous primates that were the subject of this draft legislation. The existence of ethics committees was mentioned as the so-called “acceptable” means of ensuring that all experiments were approved and done humanely, but it was interesting to note that even whilst this policy formulation process was underway, the BRC at UDW had applied for permits to obtain Chacma Baboons, and that during a suitability check by the local SPCA and EKZNW inspectors of the BRC, they not only found it unsuitable for keeping baboons, but actually confiscated and euthanised the Vervet Monkeys that were being housed there. It is also interesting to note that at the time that this took place, a member of the UDW ethics committee was also the veterinarian attached to the Durban SPCA. So much for ethics committees.

Do you know that no-one has the faintest idea how many Chacma Baboons or Vervet Monkeys we have in South Africa? What we do know is that habitat destruction and modification is having a hugely negative impact on these animals and as a result there is an ever increasing level of direct contact between them and the population of humans who have annexed the territories that these baboons and monkeys have inhabited for many generations. And with this increase in contact we have an increase in concerns for the wellbeing of both the baboons and monkeys and the people affected. One positive is that this situation forces more people to show a greater interest in these animals in an attempt to understand them and so lobby for greater protection for them, as both individuals and as species.

The sad thing is that few, if any, of the people who use baboons and monkeys as research tools bother to find out more about who these animals are and how they live. If they did they would discover what amazingly intelligent and complex beings they are, how well structured their societies are and very much like us they are in terms of their needs. They would realise what a terrible thing it is to trap wild primates and rip them away from their families in order to sell them into the world of vivisection. They would realise what a terrible thing it is confine them in isolation, in cold, sterile cages, deprive them of the social interactions with others of their kind that is such an important aspect of their mental and social wellbeing, and they would know what a terrible thing it is to subject these animals to the horrors of biomedical, warfare and other research.

Whilst discussing various aspects of the proposed new primate legislation for KZN during the many meetings that have taken place over the past four years, one thing that struck me was how little time the participating stakeholders had spent actually observing primates, in both free-ranging and captive situations, and I became convinced that it was this ignorance about these animals that made it so difficult for many of the stakeholders to understand what a management policy should really look like if it was to afford these animals a reasonable measure of protection against so much of the cruelty and exploitation to which they are subjected.

I say again, how many researchers actually know anything about the lives of the animals they see as mere research tools? Few, if any, I believe. If they did I think that it would lead them to more readily question the ethics of using these animals for research. But maybe I have displaced faith in the moral fortitude of vivisectors.

During the years that I have coordinated the activities of the Monkey Helpline, I have had an amazing insight into who Vevets and Chacmas are, how they live and what we should be doing to protect them against the injustice of abuse and exploitation for, amongst other things, vivisction.

They are not commodities!

They are not disposable things!

They ARE thinking, caring, sensitive beings, and they deserve the highest level of protection we can possibly give them, both officially and privately, also individually and collectively!!

(PS. All pics used on my blog posts are taken by Carol Booth.)

Monday, 12 March 2012

As promised in my post of March 10, this post deals with the ten week-old baby Vervet Monkey, Ginger, who was violently assaulted by a pellet gun-wielding psychopath in Hillcrest a few days ago.

The first part of the post is an extract from an article about the incident, written by Carol and me, and sent to the community newspapers, Highway Mail and Hilltop, this morning.




Monkey Helpline's Carol Booth has expressed outrage at the cowardly shooting of a baby monkey in Hillcrest this week.

"On Saturday morning we received a call from a concerned resident of Surprise Ridge, Hillcrest, to tell us about a tiny monkey foraging alone in his garden. He said that the monkey was struggling to walk because of wounds clearly visible on both an arm and a leg. Initially we believed that the baby monkey, a girl, had been injured during skirmishes between monkeys, but closer inspection at the vet revealed what looked suspiciously like a pellet wound in the monkey's right side. X-rays confirmed that the monkey had been shot twice with a pellet gun. One pellet was lodged in her lower abdomen, and the other in her left thigh."

Steve Smit Monkey Helpline coordinator has made an impassioned plea to the public to immediately report anyone they know or suspect of shooting at monkeys, or any other animal, with a pellet gun.

"Anyone discharging a pellet gun in a built up area or anywhere else where there is a risk of injury or damage to another person or property is committing an offence and can be prosecuted in terms of the Firearm Control Act, and in many cases also the Animal Protection Act," said Smit. "We rely heavily on the public to help us stop this cruelty and to bring these criminals to book. The cruel and cowardly behavior of a person who would maliciously shoot two pellets into a ten week-old baby monkey is a danger to everyone who lives around him or her. We need to eliminate the danger these people pose to our safety including that of our children and our pets."


We decided to call her Ginger, named after the Ginger Bread Man of chlidrens' story book fame who kept running away from all who tried to catch him, because when we made our move to catch her she ran away from us along the top of a prefabricated concrete wall as fast as her little injured arm and leg would allow her to, and much faster than we expected her to be able to move. It took some speedy footwork from both Carol and I to cut her off and catch hold of her before she got into dense shrubbery from which it would have been almost impossible to extricate her.

Imagine for a moment, if you can, the terrible shock, pain and fear she must have felt when first one, then two, blunt-ended lead pellets smashed viciously into her frail little body. All alone, without the protection and comfort of her mother and siblings, she had to try and follow the route her troop had moved along, the excrutiating pain in her abdomen and leg almost to much to bear. As infection set in she was getting weaker by the hour, this exacerbated by thirst and hunger because she was not getting the nutrition of mother's milk. And she must have been terribly confused and frightened by all the challenges she suddenly had to face on her own as well as being handicapped by her injuries.

If this vicious attack on a harmless baby monkey does not inspire you to support the calls for airguns to be banned in South Africa, nothing will! Please go to, by clicking on this link, and by joining this Cause you will be helping us put an end to the scourge of pellet gun (airgun) violence against monkeys and other animals in South Africa.

After catching little Ginger, we took her staright to our vet, Dr Kerry Easson, at Riverside Veterinary Clinic in Durban North. After x-rays revealed the two lead pellets in her tiny body, Dr Easson elected to perform major abdominal surgery on her in order to assess the extent of the damage to her internal organs, intestines, etc. The pellet had passed right through the body wall and miraculously missed perforating any part of her intestines. It had however damaged her bladder and this had to be repaired, which Dr Easson did.

Given the necessary antibiotics, pain killers and subcutaneous fluids for rehydration, Ginger was sent home with us in Carol's expert care. Sadly, with each passing hour she grew weaker and weaker as the effects of the huge infection caused by the bacteria-and-dirt-carrying pellets ravaged her tiny body. She died in Carol's arms late yesterday afternoon, an innocent victim of the cruel and irresponsible use of pellet guns!

Pics - Top to bottom:

Top - Little Ginger sits on Carol's lap en route to the vet. Her beautiful hazel eyes, as she sat watching me, in excrutiating pain and wondering what was in store for her, will haunt me for a long time to come.

Bottom - Two lead pellets, in obscene clarity and definition, show up in Ginger's x-ray. The pellet in her leg caused a large supurating sore just above her left knee, and the one in her abdomen damaged her bladder and in all probability resulted in the infection and other unknown debilitating factors that ultimately killed her.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

More about monkeys and birds in your garden...

Thought it worth mentioning that since my recent post about the reality concerning Vervet Monkeys and birds in gardens, we have had a rush of calls and emails telling us about gardens with monkeys AND birds.

Just yesterday I noticed that a pair of Laughing Doves, certainly one of the daintiest and most beautiful birds in the world, was mating in our front garden, at the same time as our local Vervet troop was also visiting. This pair of doves will obvioulsy nest close by, and I really do hope that they will live long enough to raise a few generations of offspring. And my concern about their saferty has nothing to do with the proximity of foraging monkeys!

Fact is that less than a year ago we had another pair of Laughing Doves breeding in the bottom of our garden. Then they both died, within a week of each other! One evening the female was pecking on the ground, only five meters from where Carol and I were standing watching monkeys in our exercise cages, when she was snatched by an African Goshawk. Nature at work, I know, but both Carol and I were devastated that such a gentle, pretty animal should die so violently, and right before our eyes! Still, we felt no antagonism towards the Goshawk. It too needs to eat to live, though I can't help wishing that the whole food chain thing didn't evolve so that one animal has to die so that another may live. Just doesn't seem right. Anyway, a few days later the remaining dove was also on the Goshawk's menu. Fortunately we were spared veiwing the killing, but not all the gory detail - proof of the deed was scattered under one of the trees, lots of soft feathers some even stuck to blood on the branch above, and on the ground below were two small, pinkish red legs and feet...

Funnily enough, I don't hear any calls for Goshawks to be culled or relocated, except by those pigeon racers who lose the odd racing bird to an intrepid bird of prey, or bird breeders whose aviaries full of prisoners are irresistable temptation for hungry young Goshawks and Sparrowhawks having to fend for themslves or die of starvation.

So, give the monkeys a break, they really aren't the villains some paint them to be, just as the letter below shows!

Hi Steve and Carol

Thank you for doing such a sterling job with the monkeys.

I just read your email regarding the destruction that the monkeys are supposed to do in your garden.

We stay on the Bluff and have 3- 4 different troops coming through our yard almost daily. We have a mostly indigenous garden and have the most trees and shrubbery in our area. (People move in, chop down trees and pave everywhere). We have 4 dogs, we have a resident genet that lives somewhere close by and pops in about 3-4 times a week, neighbours cats and a few grass type snakes. We also have a flourishing birdlife. Weavers, Sparrows , Doves, Mannicans (the usual) as well as Brown Hooded Kingfisher, Woodpecker, Barbet, Natal Robin, Paradise Flycatcher. There is also a Sparrow Hawk that flies through here regularly. We have bats at night and loads of frogs.

Recently a Hadeeda hatched its little chick in our tree right outside our kitchen door. It also happens to be the tree that the mommy monkey’s use to train their little ones to jump from branch to branch. All that happened was that the mother and father Hadeeda sat on a branch close to the chick. When the baby monkeys came a little to close to the chick, the parents would fly at the monkey. However, it is almost as if the monkeys knew it was a chick, they very seldom went too close.

This is just to say all of these can live in harmony, including the humans.

The sizes of the troops definitely have become smaller in the past 14-15 years that we have been in this house.

Thanks again for everything.

Michele & Robbie Slabbert

Another day, another monkey death!

The posting below is an article written this week for the community newspaper, Northglen News.

“Durban North is once again the scene of a cowardly monkey shooting”, says Monkey Helpline rescuer, Steve Smit. “In spite of the exposure that recent monkey shootings in Durban North have had in the local community newspaper, the Northglen News, a stunning adult male Vervet Monkey was killed by two pellets shot into his chest. The first pellet must have incapacitated him immediately because the shooter was able to fire a second pellet into him. He fell into the neighbour’s Danville Road garden and died a short while later.”

“The monkey’s body was collected by a Monkey Helpline supporter who also lives in Danville Road, and taken to Dr Kerry Easson at Riverside Veterinary Clinic for a post mortem. She was able to ascertain that one of the pellets had passed through a number of vital organs, including one lung, and finally lodged in the monkey’s heart”, said Smit. “Dr Easson told me that the monkey had died almost instantly from massive bleeding into the chest cavity.”

“It concerns us that this monkey was shot just a stone’s throw away from where the previously reported monkey was shot in James Place, but it was definitely a different shooter. We can say this with confidence because we have received some promising leads regarding the James Place shooter, and we also know that the person who shot this adult male lives directly behind the Danville Road residence where the monkey died. In both cases we are consulting legal counsel with a view to laying charges with the South African Police Services.”

Smit said that no person with even a smidgen of moral fiber in their body would shoot a monkey with a pellet gun. “It is without doubt a cruel and cowardly thing to do and people who would do this to a monkey would have no hesitation about shooting a neighbor’s cat or dog, or any bird or mongoose who ventured into, or close to, their property. This is clearly shown by the coward who shot the monkey who died in the Danville Road garden.”
Smit has appealed to Durban North residents to report anyone they know to be using a pellet gun to either shoot or frighten away monkeys, birds or other animals. “In terms of the Firearm Control Act it is an offence to discharge a pellet gun in a built up area, or anywhere there is a risk of injury or damage to a person or property. The only way we can stop these unjustifiable monkey shootings is for all responsible people to support our campaign on the Causes website, . Join this Cause and you will help us destroy the scourge of pellet gun violence against innocent animals!”


PS. Tomorrow's posting will deal with a small, ten week-old Vervet girl we were called out to rescue this morning in Hillcrest. We were told she had injuries to both an arm and a leg and was just limping along all on her own, not another monkey in sight. Now, any time a monkey this small has been left behind on her own you can be sure her mommy is dead. No mother monkey will leave her baby to fend for herself like this unless that mother is dead, and no baby monkey leaves her mother and goes off on her own unless her mother is dead. Even if her mother is incapacitated by injury or illness the baby will stay with her!

We managed to catch this baby, saw the infected injuries on her arm and leg and took her for veterinary treatment. Under sedation, closer inspection revealed a suspicious looking injury to the right side of her lower abdomen, so an x-ray was taken, and sure enough, lodged in her abdomen was a lead pellet. And to cap it all, another pellet was lodged in her left thigh. Yes, hard as it is to believe, there lives in Hillcrest, a human being of such low moral fiber, such cowardly dispositon, that he or she could see a tiny baby monkey, take aim at her with a pellet gun, and then shoot, not one, but two pellets into that little body!

If there is one single incident that could encapsulate the entire case against random, uncontrolled ownership of airguns (pellet guns), it must be this one.

In the next post you will read about the courage of little Ginger and how she is fighting to survive this despicable attack and the loss of her mother - and why we named her Ginger!

Tuesday, 06 March 2012

Vervet monkeys and garden birds

Did a talk about monkeys in the Port Edward library hall on Thursday last week, and when it came to audience comment and question time, sure enough the same old cliches about the destructive nature of monkeys were dredged up. As they they say, "nothing new under the sun"!

Anyway, the one that I find exceptionally irritating is that "monkeys are breeding out of control and have destroyed the birdlife in my garden/neighbourhood/nature reserve and more". This is, of course a load of twaddle!

When I tell the grumpies this, they are most indignant. Then I hear about the Laughing Doves, the Dusky and Paradise Flycatchers, the Sunbirds, etc, etc, who used to nest in their gardens for years until along came the over-breeding monkeys, ate the young or eggs and broke the nests before tossing them to the ground. Even the Weavers, who usually get the sharp edge of the grumpies' tounges for destroying Palm and Fever Tree foliage (yes, the same Fever Tree that is really endemic to northern KwaZulu-Natal and doesn't actually belong in the so-called "indigenous" gardens of most of the rest of KZN) are in favour when the pesky monkeys come around and help themselves to Weaver eggs and chicks. Let a Gymnogene raid the same Weaver colony and the bird lovers are ecstatic!

So why is this claim that monkeys are breeding out of control a load of twaddle?

Fact is that anyone who takes a minute to see what is happening to urban monkeys and those on farm lands will see that the huge numbers dying every day make it impossible for monkey numbers to be on the increase, and our statistics and troop monitoring tell us very loudly that, on the contrary, the number of monkeys in these areas is steadily on the decrease.

So, if not the monkeys, who or what should take the blame because some folk are no longer experiencing the joy of indigenous birds breeding in their gardens and neighbourhoods, if in fact this really is the case?

Firstly, I would like to see the results of some unbiased research on the subject. Then I would also like to see if the researchers have established whether or not the displaced breeding pairs have simply decided to nest elsewhere due to interferences, including that caused by naturally foraging monkeys because the birds had unwittingly chosen to nest in the resident Vervet troop's daily foraging path.

Surprising as it may seem to the "gotta have the birds breeding in my garden and eating off my bird-feeding tables" folk, there are many other factors impacting on the birdlife in their gardens and surrounds. Many other bird species such as certain Shrikes, Coucals, and Gymnogenes routinely raid the nests of birds. Raptors such as Sparrowhawks and Goshawks catch the parent birds and so also condemn the young to death by starvation, and believe me, the abundance of bird tables with their over fed avian patrons makes the life of these raptors just pure joy. Then there are other natural predators such as Genets, certain Mongooses (and I have personally witnessed Slender Mongooses taking Glossy Starling chicks from their nesting hole in my neighbours Natal Fig), and arboreal snakes who forage freely in our leafy gardens by day or night and who certainly don't give any on-the-nest parent bird or their eggs or nestlings a miss. Of course we cannot deny the fact that domestic cats, both owned and feral, as well as introduced rats, and even terrier dogs such as the Jack Russell, all take a heavy toll on the birdlife in our gardens and neighbourhood. Add to this the birds dying from being shot with airguns (pellet guns) and catepults, struck by motor cars, flying into electric fencing, getting caught on razor wire, and also from smashing themselves into reflecting window panes on houses and shops, and suddenly we see that monkeys are carrying the blame when in fact they are mostly just a very small contributor to a much bigger picture.

Bottom line is that if the numbers of certain bird species in urban gardens and neighbourhoods are dropping, look for the real reasons as to what is causing this. Just because monkeys are forced to forage throughout their historical territory along routes that bring them into "your" garden, makes them visible to you, and gives you a regular target for your frustrations, doesn't make them the destructive criminals they are branded by a small, but dangerously vociferous, frequently violent, minority!

My advice to the people who hate monkeys and use the "but they destroy all the birdlife in my garden/neighbourhood" moan to prop up their indefensible, xenophobic-like attitude and behaviour, is to take some time out and just observe the monkeys the next time they visit your garden. Then you will learn what truly amazing little animals they are, and you will realise what a privilege it is to have them around!

Come on, give the monkeys a break! And while you are doing this you might even let your mind wander to the possible effects that habitat destruction, road noise, light pollution, construction activity and noise, and even global warming, are having on the nesting success and presence of many bird species that used to frequent your garden. And whilst you're about it, don't forget that curse called FIREWORKS, that at the time of Diwali and Guy Fawkes, even New Year's Eve, chases terrified parent birds off the nest when many have young or eggs in the nest, causes them to suffer broken wings, legs and beaks or to die from collision with tree branches, powerlines, and other obstacles they can't see at night.

Monkeys really to blame for a drop in urban bird numbers? I think not!