This posting is devoted to a few of the many positive outcomes of our efforts to help monkeys, and believe me, there are many. It is our optimism with every rescue we are called out to that there will be a happy ending, and for us that translates very simply to being able to release the rescued monkey back to where it was living with its troop before we captured it.
Unfortunately, the reality of monkey rescues is all too often sketched in blood on the stark canvas of human intolerance, cruelty, indifference and speciesism. And the upshot of this is that when we write our blog we are frequently angry, heartbroken, bewildered and frustrated. So, more often than not we find ourselves recounting the tragedies of our daily callouts, not because we thrive on doom and tragedy, but because we believe that unless the public knows exactly what is happening to monkeys in this increasingly monkey-unfriendly world, we won’t get the support we need to make a positive difference for monkeys and other animals who all share this fragile planet. Scattered throughout the dark pain and suffering there are bursts of light that recharge our emotional batteries and keep us going in the belief that every rescue has some good in it, even if that “good” is the humane taking of a tortured and doomed life. But, there are happy endings, inspirational endings, none more so than those recounted here.
During the third quarter of 2009 we rescued two adult male Vervets who had each suffered severe, life-threatening injury to their left leg (primates have arms and legs).
Accacia, the male rescued in Westville and named after the road where he was trapped, had an ugly, painful wound into his left ankle and was unable to use that leg at all.
Michael, rescued in Mkuhla Road, Glen Anil, had survived electrocution on municipal electricity supply lines but the severity of the damage to his lower left leg meant that it would only be a matter of time before he lost the damaged portion of the leg, which would include his left foot.
Both monkeys had contracted severe infection as a result of their injuries.
Our daily monkey dealings have shown us that there are many monkeys who have lost all or part of a limb and survived without the benefit of human intervention and the miracle of modern veterinary care. But we also know that many get infection in similar injuries and suffer terribly before they die. It is up to us to judge each case on its individual merits and, given the extensive rescue, treatment and care experience we have gained over the past fifteen years, to take the action we deem appropriate. So, both Accacia and Michael were trapped and taken to our vet for assessment and necessary treatment.
The vet decided that Accacia’s left leg should be amputated two-thirds up the thigh due to the physical damage and severe infection in both muscle and bone.
Michael’s electrocution-damaged lower leg shriveled and eventually dropped off. Fifteen-year old Monkey helpline volunteer, Shannon Wood, nearly fainted when she discovered Michael’s foot on the bottom of his cage when she was helping with cage-cleaning in our “monkey high- care”.
So now we had to adult male Vervets in our care, each having lost the use of their left leg. Initially we had been certain that both monkeys, each with only three fully functional limbs, would have a good quality of life in a local Vervet sanctuary while they were being assessed for possible release, but that option failed to materialize as the sanctuary had reached capacity and could not accommodate any more adult male Vervets. Direct release became the only option. After seven months with us, a number of those spent in our large outside exercise cages (top pic shows a fit looking Accacia in the exercise cage), both Accacia and Michael were the picture of health. They were fit and strong and able to use their one leg as if they still had two. But we only decided that release was worth the risks after lengthy consideration of all the possible outcomes and much pestering of our primate-knowledgeable friends for their thoughts and advice.
Came the day of the release and much excitement accompanied our catching and boxing of the two boys in preparation of transporting them to their respective places of original rescue capture.
We took Accacia to the very garden where we originally caught him, and the moment the box was opened he sped to freedom, no doubt convinced that the months of captivity spent plotting and planning his escape had suddenly and unexpectedly borne fruit (second from top pic shows Accacia racing back to freedom).
Michael’s release was equally heart-warming as he too sped from the box to freedom (bottom pic), a freedom which to him seemed momentarily to have been thwarted by a palisade fence he must have slipped through easily many times before. But months of five-star meals had added a few centimeters to his girth and he was brought to an abrupt, if very brief halt, before some strenuous wriggling got him through and he could lope casually into the adjacent, unfenced garden and climb easily to the top of a big tree from where he could survey a territory last seen seven months before, but still remembered in every minute detail.
We had told a number of monkey-friendly people living within the territories of Accacia and Michael about the release of the two and asked to be notified of any sightings. To our delight we received news of sightings within days and continue to receive frequent, positive feedback about the activities of both Michael and Accacia.
Three weeks after the release, we had the heart-stopping experience of having Accacia cross busy Blair Athol Road right in front of us in 5 ‘o clock traffic, only about one monkey minute from our house where he had spent the previous seven months. Could it be that he was missing the food and security of life with Carol in the Monkey helpline “high-care” and was trying to find his way back to us? That question was answered two days later when, going down to feed the monkeys in the outside enclosures, we found a contented looking Accacia on top of what had been his exercise cage (a jail by any other name…) for three months.
What would happen if he was confronted by adult males from our resident troop of Vervets? We got the answer a few days later when we watched, enthralled and in trepidation, as Accacia was challenged by one of the young adult males scouting a safe route for his fellow troop members. Being a young adult himself, Accacia survived the encounter and those that followed on subsequent days, having some ugly but not life threatening injuries inflicted on him by the bigger, stronger males.
A week after his first encounter with the troop he had challenged daily for three months from the safety of his cage, Accacia was accepted into the troop with which he now visits our garden daily ( pic third from top shows a comfortably free-again, banana-eating Accacia in our garden).
As for Michael, he continues to enjoy the company of the troop he was a part of when we rescued him. One lady called to say she sees him often and recently said he was “running like the wind in the tree tops”. A few weeks ago we received a rescue callout that took us to Huckleberry Road in Glen Anil. On our arrival I realized that we were just over the hill from where we had released Michael. I asked the caller if she had seen a male monkey with his left foot missing. She laughed and told us to go and look in the trees behind her house. There, sitting casually on a branch surrounded by a collection of other Vervets, was Michael. He was so well and looked as if he had never spent a day away from his troop. And we knew he had been unconditionally accepted back into his troop when the alpha male walked along the branch Michael was sitting on, brushed past him and continued on his way to another tree without giving Michael a second glance. I’m not ashamed to say I had a tear of joy trickle down my cheek and when I looked across at Carol she too was teary-eyed with happiness and relief at seeing Michael so comfortably back where he belongs.
To end on a humorous note, last week we received a call from an elderly lady living in Cypress Road, Glen Anil. She said she was terribly concerned about a badly injured monkey who was in her garden. I asked the usual questions and learnt that the entire troop was there in her garden, including a big male whose foot was missing. Would we please come and catch this poor “suffering” monkey, and would we have to euthanise him? I asked if it was his left foot missing? Yes! Was the “injured” leg bleeding? No! Other than the missing foot, did the monkey look healthy? Yes, very! This was definitely Michael, and the lady was delighted to have met him.
I started this blog post intending to share at least four happy releases with you, but the others will have to wait for another posting, otherwise I’ll be up till 3am again.
What the release of Michael and Accacia has taught us is that, given the chance, Vervets can survive, unconfined, with disabilities resulting from natural and man-made causes, even if those disabilities are as severe as the full or partial loss of a limb. We owe it to them to give them every chance to do so!