Urban environments a death trap for baby vervets

Baby vervet monkeys are being decimated at an alarming rate in the current urban environment.

KWAZULU-NATAL’s urban environment has become increasingly dangerous for baby vervet monkeys, so much so that only one in four of the primates will survive to see its first birthday.

Carol Booth of the Monkey Helpline recently highlighted this shocking statistic saying that if drastic actions are not taken to protect the vervets, they could soon face extinction.

“This is a major concern as vervets only become sexually mature at the age of four or five,” Booth explained.

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The non-profit organisation currently has 50 orphaned baby monkeys in its care – most of these babies are aged between four and six months. This number has slightly increased since last year, Booth said.

Carol Booth of the Monkey Helpline has sacrificed countless hours in the hope of rehabilitating and releasing the orphaned baby monkeys back into the wild.


However, the number of call outs involving dead baby vervets has ‘skyrocketed’.

“It has become more and more difficult for a troop to move around safely in the city and unfortunately the babies are the ones taking the biggest toll,” said Booth.

Common dangers faced by the monkeys include; busy roads, pellet gun shooters, poisoning, dogs and most recently tetanus.

Tetanus is a potentially fatal bacterial infection that affects the nerves. The infection, which has no cure, can easily be prevented in humans through vaccine. Booth emphasised that tetanus can not be transferred from a monkey to a human via a bite or scratch.

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“Previously we only saw monkeys infected with tetanus in areas where there are horses and stables, but now we have even encountered monkeys with full blown tetanus as far as Durban North,” she said.

Booth said they were also concerned that there are still a number of people who believe the misconception that vervets are overpopulated. “They feel that it is their responsibility to reduce the population, and they are getting away with it by shooting and poisoning these creatures,” she said.

The long road to rehabilitation

According to Booth, the rehabilitation process of a baby vervet is extensive and complicated.

“Once an orhaned baby monkey has been rescued it is imperative that we found a surrogate mother, as these babies need lots of one-on-one attention. It’s not easy to find a surrogate mum, as this requires dedication and sacrifice. The monkeys sleep on you and need to be bottle fed regularly.”

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A surrogate mom can care for three to four babies at a time. The babies stay with their surrogate mother for three months.

“While one-on-one care is important we have to strike a health balance. If the monkeys stay in the care of humans too long they become pets, and so we try and introduce them to other monkeys as soon as possible.”


The deadly dangers for baby vervet monkeys are growing in the current urban environment.

At this phase the babies are paired with adult females and other monkeys who are about one year old.

“This enables them to learn from the older monkeys, and they start forming a small troop. It is a two year process before they can be released as they all have to bond.”

When a site has been identified and agreed upon by both the Monkey Helpline and the KwaZulu-Natal Wildlife they need to get the permit for the monkeys to be released.

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“It then takes six months for the monkeys to ‘bond’ with the territory. We keep the monkeys in a small enclosure so that they can become familiar with what animals and food are in the area, and also were the sun rises and sets.”

“It is often a catch 22 for us because the ultimate goal is to release the monkeys back into the wild, but then we are also left wondering what kinds of dangers we are releasing them into.”


Mariclair Smit

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