A major challenge in conservation is influencing people’s behaviour – to maintain biodiversity by modifying human actions. As humans we have to start living our lives sustainably, we have to realise that biodiversity is the key to the earth’s survival and thus our own.
Vervet monkeys, people either hate them or love them. The truth is, we depend on them and MUST learn to live with them, but Vervets must remain wild. Vervet monkeys are protected by both national and provincial legislation and injuring or killing them is a punishable offence. They are NOT VERMIN. This term refers to alien animal species such as the rat, Rattus norvegicus, feral pig and even the house cat! Indigenous problem animals must be assessed and dealt with by the provincial conservation authority.
Vervets play an important role in our ecosystem. They are arboreal creatures dependant on forests for food and shelter. The Vervet troops in an area will be descendants of an ancient group that has survived over eons of time.
• Vervets feed on fruit, flowers, pollen, nectar, bark, gum, roots, seeds, grasses, insects (all stages in the life cycle) and birds eggs and act as pollinators as they forage from one plant to the next.
• Vervets remove parasites from each other, and other animals and thus prevent disease.
• Vervets are major seed dispersal agents ensuring the continued survival of the forests. Forests absorb carbon dioxide, essential for our fight against climate change, and give off oxygen, which we humans need to breathe.
Humans have caused the problems we experience with Vervets and for this we must take responsibility. It is strongly advised by conservationists NOT TO FEED Vervets, as this causes them to loose their inherent fear of people – an instinct they need for survival. They then become a nuisance to neighbours damaging property and posing a threat to others who do not understand wild animal behaviour. Vervets will protect their babies from any threat and protect their food source, even if it is in your house!
Conservationists have found that capturing problem Vervets or troops of Vervet monkeys just relocates the problem to another area. Destruction of the animals is a short term solution, because a new troop will soon move into the area. Wild Vervet monkeys left to themselves are not a problem and the troop sizes are a lot smaller that in suburbia when they are scavenging off our waste or are being fed.
Remove the availability of food and water and Vervets can be reconditioned to stop interacting with people. Primates have a good memory, so exercise patience and all residents in the area should adopt the same measures:
• Never feed Vervet monkeys
• Never try to catch a Vervet for any reason. If one gets trapped leave doors and windows open and move out of its way
• Do not leave fruit out and secure all food and pet food out of sight
• Do not eat in front of Vervets, do not let children eat outside when Vervets are in the area
• Vegetable scraps should be buried in the compost
• Secure Rubbish bins
• Remove bird feeders
• If you grow vegetables rather support the farmers’ market or monkey proof your vegetable patch
• Put screens on your security gates and burglar guards
• Monkeys gaining access to your house using a telephone line can be discouraged by placing a hose around the line – the monkeys grabbing the hose will swing upside down and they don’t like it
• Do not teach dogs to attack Vervets, monkeys will keep clear of big dogs
• Do drive slowly in areas where monkeys cross the road
• Do teach children Vervet monkey dos and don’ts.
• Plant indigenous trees that will provide alternative food sources for Vervets and birds.
Above all respect all forms of life, as biodiversity is key to sustainability!
Sources: Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife publications and Monkey Helpline website
Image: K de Pinna