The most critical threat to the Vervet population is the common attitude
that they are pests and a nuisance. This attitude prevails in urban
environments and farmlands alike and is the direct cause of monkeys being
shot, poisoned and maimed.
Vervet monkeys (Ceropithecus aethiops) have been harshly judged
by a public who have much to learn about their close-knit social
structures, behaviour and their triumphs and tragedies associated with
The best way we can help is with more knowledge and understanding and
compassion for those that share our space.
✤ Vervet monkeys DO NOT carry rabies.
✤ There is NOT an over-population of Vervet monkeys and for this
reason they are NO LONGER CLASSIFIED AS VERMIN. The diminishing threat
from their natural enemies (caracals, eagles, pythons have all largely
been exterminated) have been replaced by substantial human-related threats
(rapid development, cars, hunting, farming). The population has decreased
significantly due to indiscriminate shooting, poisoning and illicit pet
and ‘muti’ trades.
✤ More than a hundred years ago, it was typical to find 100
individuals per troop. Today troops consist of less than 30 individuals.
✤ The troop spends most of its time foraging for food and can
roam over an area of about 7 km in radius. Because troops are territorial,
foraging can become a desperate affair when food is scarce (within a city
area for instance). Raiding your home for food is therefore the most
natural thing for a monkey to do - he needs food, you've got it, it's his
area - he wants some!
✤ Vervets do not carry fleas. This is due to the meticulous
grooming habits which occur between troop members and reaffirms bonds and
is a sign of respect and affection.
✤ Vervet monkeys - like all primates - are gregarious animals and
have well defined social structures. The highest ranking member, the
‘Alpha male’ (often referred to as the bull), uses his vigilance to
protect and defend the troop. It is he who you most often hear
‘barking’ in the distance, signalling a threat.
✤ The Alpha is the only male in the troop who is allowed to mate
with his ‘harem’ of sexually mature females. He defends this right
very fiercely. Other adult males are allowed to remain under his
protection as long as they make no advances toward the females. Lower
ranking males will humbly comply with this as even they realise the
benefit of safety in numbers.
✤ The troop also has a second-in-command, or a scout in the form of
the ‘Beta male’. His task is to search for sources of food as well as
to warn the troop of impending danger. Many people have seen the Beta male
and believed him to be a ‘lone bull’. Without knowledge of the
important function he plays in his troop, humans have often resorted to
wrongfully shooting him and thereby disturbing the troop’s social
✤ The ‘harem’ of adult females as well as the juveniles are
governed by an ‘Alpha female’ and a few assistants. She is usually
responsible for sorting out ‘domestic’ disputes which occur in the
troop. This she does with an intimidating stare with raised eyebrows and a
show of teeth. In some cases the reprimand calls for a sharp pull and nip
of the miscreant’s tail.
✤ Juveniles reach sexual maturity at the age of 4 years.
✤ Females give birth to live young after a 7 month gestation
period. Mothers are fiercely protective of their young, in spite of the
fact that the rest of the troop constantly wish to shower the infants with
✤ The majority of infants are born in early spring
(September/October). Much of the gestation period occurs over winter
which, due to food scarcity, is usually a very stressful time for
✤ The actual birth of a Vervet occurs at night or in the early
hours of the morning. Video footage of a live birth has revealed that
expectant mothers suffer all the same symptoms of labour as humans do -
from the diarrhoea prior to, through to the process of severing the
umbilical cord after labour. A ‘midwife’, usually the mother’s
teenage daughter, is present throughout to assist with the birth itself,
as well as to clean up and discard the afterbirth.
✤ After 2 or 3 weeks, mothers relax their guard somewhat and allow
themselves to be groomed. While this is taking place babies are often
‘robbed’ from their mother’s arms by over-eager juvenile nannies who
wish to rehearse the roles they will be playing in the coming months as
the infants learn to become more independent. Such behaviour is often
associated with high pitched squeals from the babies who are searching for
their mother’s reassuring embrace.
✤ As time passes babies become increasingly inquisitive of the
surroundings and spend more time away from their mothers, choosing instead
to join their relations in climbing the branches on their own. The nannies
play an important role in looking after the mischievous ‘kids’. When
reassurance is sought, a squeal will always bring the mother to the
✤ By watching and playing with the juveniles, babies learn a great
deal about being a monkey. Some of these lessons include finding out which
fruits are edible and what action to take when danger is spotted.
Depriving orphan babies (eg a single pet) of the opportunity to interact
with older monkeys causes irreparable psychological damage. Rehabilitation
of such monkeys is extremely difficult.
✤ Depending on the individual monkey personalities, swimming may
form part of their normal behaviour. This phenomenon is well documented
among other primates as well (eg baboons).
✤ Droughts and winter pose particular stresses on the monkey
population. During these difficult times the fruit trees which had
sustained them no longer provide food. This situation is exacerbated by
the destruction of indigenous vegetation and the prevention of access to
many existing tracts of indigenous areas. Out of sheer desperation monkeys
will raid crops, houses and dustbins in a last ditch effort to survive.
✤ Our decade long association with monkeys has revealed that a
monkey without an appetite won’t bother taking the high risk of invading
✤ Such conflict situations can be avoided by supplementing food
sources. By establishing ‘feeding stations’ in a far corner of the
garden, or better yet, in an undeveloped area away from the house, the
incidence of raiding can be diminished. Feeding stations should be seen as
supplemental feeding and is not necessary when natural food sources are
✤ Just as you would arrange for the care of your pets while away,
so backup management of a feeding station is equally important. Group
involvement and consideration and agreement of neighbours are vital
requirements of successful supplemental feeding programs.
✤ Suggested foods:
Fruit: bananas, grapes, pears, peaches, watermelon, litchis
Veg: pumpkin pips, carrots, beans, potatoes, sweet potatoes, marrow,
Other: bread, peanuts(raw), mealies(on the cob), sunflower seeds
✤ Don’t feed monkeys by hand or off verandahs and window
sills. This encourages them to approach you and your house and can
escalate raiding and conflict. It is as difficult for a monkey to resist a
ripe bunch of bananas on display on your table as it is for a child to
resist candy in a candy store.
✤ Don’t shoot monkeys with pellet guns, firearms or catapults or
throw crackers at them. All of these activities are illegal and will lead
to prosecution. In addition, they also serve to maim the animal leading to
untold pain and suffering.
✤ Don’t attempt to catch a baby monkey for a pet or ask someone
to obtain one for you or accept one if offered to you. The troop is
extremely protective of their young and capturing a baby invariable
involves killing the baby’s mother and other monkeys aiding in their
protection. Remember, baby monkeys may be cute and cuddly when small - but
become difficult to handle as adults.
✤ Don’t allow children to tease, shout or panic when around
monkeys. Monkeys regard loud noises and sudden movement as aggression and
are likely to retaliate in defence.
✤ Don’t teach your dogs to chase and attack monkeys. If cornered
by a dog the troop could retaliate and seriously injure your pet.
✤ When smiling at their antics do not show your teeth or make
direct eye contact for long periods of time. Facial expressions are
particularly important in the communication of all primates and humans
unknowingly communicate threats which may invoke aggressive response.
✤ Remember that monkeys are not naturally aggressive towards us
unless they have been provoked.
✤ Discourage monkeys from coming into your home by placing
rubber snakes, bright yellow or orange balls with painted big, black eyes
or face masks in prominent/problem locations. Preferably these should be
strung up so they can move in the breeze and should be relocated
✤ Should you encounter a monkey in your house - don’t panic. The
monkey is more afraid of what you are going to do to him than you are of
the monkey. Walk quietly and slowly (don’t shout and wave your arms)
behind the monkey allowing him to see you at all times. Use your presence
to guide him to an open escape route. Keeping the monkey from panicking
will surely save on broken glassware and general mayhem.
✤ Contrary to popular belief, all monkeys do not carry rabies
but remember, any animal can be infected with the disease if bitten . . .
✤ Aggression begets aggression . . . every cornered animal is
dangerous. Instinctively, flight is preferred to fight but it is also
instinctive for an animal to protect his own. During breeding season when
mothers are carrying their young babies, the monkeys will be a lot more
nervous than normal and aggression can be invoked far more quickly. Who
would want it any other way!
✤ Remember that in the animal world, sudden movement indicates
attack, a show of teeth is a sign of aggression, direct eye contact is a
challenge - be aware of your own body language when approaching any wild
✤ Wounds from fights and skirmishes are part of the natural course
of events and we should not interfere - allow nature its way.
✤ If you do come across an injured animal;
- remember it's traumatised and will behave accordingly
- approach the animal calmly and quietly
- call for rescue assistance if it is still mobile or retrieval is
- keep the animal warm until medical assistance is available
It is so easy to live in harmony with our monkeys
and get great pleasure from their company . . .
it just takes a change in attitude.