Win some! Lose some! Too many lost!

On a daily basis I am appalled by the callous indifference shown to Vervet monkeys by a small, morally dysfunctional group of people living in those residential areas also frequented by Vervet monkeys.

Recently a local newspaper published a number of letters from people antagonistically inclined towards the presence of monkeys around their homes. Fears about monkeys possibly attacking babies, spreading rabies and just being monkeys were graphically and emotively presented. This in spite of the fact that Monkey Helpline has for years been educating people regarding the truth about monkeys and debunking the myths that have lead some people to erroneously see them as vermin, carriers of rabies and being prone to attacking and severely injuring adults, children and dogs, even cats on the odd occasion!

Fact is that in KZN monkeys are NOT classified as “vermin” – they are protected nationally in terms of the Animal Protection Act, and provincially in terms of the KZN Nature Conservation Ordinance. They do NOT attack people or their pets, only biting when they are themselves attacked by dogs or if a person tries to catch or hurt a monkey. They are NOT carriers of rabies and there has NEVER been an officially recorded case of a rabid monkey in South Africa. There is NO monkey “over-population” or “population explosion” as so many uninformed people are quick to proclaim when calling for monkeys to be culled or captured and relocated. On the contrary, with so many urban monkeys dying daily from injuries sustained when hit by motor vehicles, attacked and bitten by dogs, shot with pellet guns, electrocuted on power lines, caught in razor wire, poisoned, trapped and snared, these deaths, including those of monkeys dying from injuries sustained during inter- and intra-troop fights which are particularly vicious due to the stress the monkeys are under because of persecution and habitat destruction, are far higher than any population can sustain and certainly far higher than they would suffer from natural predators.

As distressing as it is to deal with the daily consequences of violence against, and indifference to the needs of, monkeys it is also heartwarming and encouraging to know that there are far more people who care about monkeys and want to protect rather than harm them. Monkey-haters are a small, ethically retarded minority of the population but sadly their negative impact on the safety of monkeys is substantial. For example, this past week alone just in Hillcrest, pro-monkey residents assisted the Monkey helpline with rescuing three Vervet monkeys horribly injured after falling victim to human violence.

The first was a young male monkey caught in a snare set on a garden wall in the centre of residential Hillcrest. The snare, made of unraveled strands of bicycle brake cable, was set on top of a pre-cast wall used daily by a troop of monkeys. It was attached to a razor-wire bracket so that when the monkey was snared just above his left ankle, he also injured himself horribly on the razor-wire as he thrashed about trying to escape, even breaking some teeth on the razor-wire as he bit at this thing that was hurting him so much every time he moved (second pic down shows the vet removing a broken tooth from the monkey’s jaw). Fortunately, a neighbour saw him struggling and called the Monkey Helpline. We rescued him and with the excellent veterinary treatment received from our vet at Riverside Vet Clinic, Dr Kerry Easson, we will soon be able to free him back to his troop.

The second was a beautiful, mature adult female rescued from a residential complex, also in central residential Hillcrest. Monkey Helpline was called after a caring resident saw what she thought was a dead monkey lying on her lawn. As she approached the monkey she saw movement and realized it was still alive. We rushed the monkey to our vet where an x-ray revealed five pellets in her body (third pic down)). One had passed through her liver causing an enormous abscess which had burst a day or two earlier spewing lethal infection into her abdomen. In spite of a heroic effort by Kerry, which included major surgery to repair pellet damage and flush the infectious pus from her abdomen, she died shortly after she was taken off the operating table. To add to the tragedy was the discovery of a freshly dead, perfectly formed little baby in her womb. It had literally been poisoned to death by the noxious liver abscess (fourth pic down shows mom and unborn baby).

Third was a rear-old little monkey struck by a motor vehicle just a few hundred meters from where the shot female had been rescued the previous day. In spite of the fact that monkeys were visibly crossing the busy road, and responsible motorists were slowing down, it took just one uncaring and unfocussed idiot to race along and right over the young monkey, leaving it for dead in the road and continuing his journey without any concern for the life he had, by all appearances, just ended. Fortunately the incident was witnessed by one of the many monkey-caring families living in the Highway area. They stopped to move the “dead” monkey to the side of the road, as much for its dignity and not wanting to see it squashed by other vehicles as to ensure that more monkeys were not run over as they ran into the road frantically trying to coax their unmoving, bleeding troop-mate to follow them. The actions of these animal lovers actually saved the young monkey’s life because he was still very much alive though deeply unconscious and bleeding profusely from injuries to his lower lip and jaw. Again Kerry’s skill and dedication ensured the monkey’s survival and once his cuts and broken jaw are healed he will be returned to his troop.

These are just three of the many monkeys we have been called out to rescue this past week. I’ll update you on a few more of them in the next blog posting, but one thing that needs to be said is that as much as it is the dramatic rescue effort that ends with a monkey in our carry-box, or wrapped in a towel if it has died, that people notice and support, none of this would be possible were it not for all the amazing people who care enough to phone us when they see a monkey in distress. Without those many phone calls interrupting our lives twenty-four hours a day we would be doing normal day jobs, earning good salaries, having weekends off, going on holiday, and, heaven forbid, maybe even watching an entire Sharks game without having to rush off and rescue a monkey, or one of the many other animals that come our way. Yes, without your calls we would be doing all these things, and every year hundreds of monkeys would suffer or die without any chance of being saved. THANK YOU FOR CARING ENOUGH TO MAKE THAT CALL!

Victims of crime!

This continues to be a quiet week compared to the normally frenetic pace we operate at. Not complaining, but hoping too that I get the chance to watch the Boks give the All Blacks a hiding in their own back yard later today and so also clinch the 2009 Tri-Nations Cup.

But seriously, there have been relatively few monkey rescue callouts this week. We did rescue one Herald snake, a fruit bat and an adolescent Banded Mongoose. We got a callout to a pair of Egyptian geese and fourteen goslings walking the streets of Westville looking for a safe place to settle. Our search for them was futile but, unless someone else got to them before us, hopefully for compassionate reasons, we will get another callout soon. Of this I am sure.

Talking of Egyptian geese, read the following letter sent by us to the Berea Mail recently:

Coordinators of the Durban-based Animal Rights Africa project, Animal Rescues Unlimited (ARU), Carol Booth and Steve Smit, are appealing to Berea residents to notify them as soon as they become aware of any Egyptian Geese already nesting or wanting to nest in trees or on buildings anywhere on the Berea.

“Last week we rescued six newly-hatched goslings and their parents from the roof-garden of a well known high-rise block of flats in Musgrave Road.,” said Carol (Pic on the right). “Three other goslings had already fallen from eight floors up and miraculously survived. It was a very nerve-wracking experience for us. As we arrived on the roof of the flats, the parent geese were trying to coax the six goslings to drop over the edge. With our hearts in our mouths we managed to get them to move away from the edge and into a passage where they were all captured and safely confined.”

Carol said that it was common for Egyptian Geese to nest at various locations on the Berea. “Their natural nesting sites are in large trees and on cliff ledges, and it is not uncommon for them to breed on top of the large nests of the Hammerkop or to use the abandoned nests of other large birds. However, the ledges and rooftops of manmade buildings are an attractive alternative to natural nesting sites for these large, beautiful birds. Once the goslings hatch the parents must lead them to the closest suitable open water around which they graze and grow until they are old enough to fly off.”

“Unfortunately, on the Berea and in other urban areas where these geese have taken to nesting, open water and suitable grazing are not easily reached without the parent geese have to lead their little goslings across treacherous roads and through hazardous gardens where motor cars, dogs and cats take a terrible toll,” said Carol. “It is heartbreaking to go out on a rescue, like the one we carried out in Essenwood Road last year, and find seven out of a brood of eleven goslings already flattened by motor cars. To see the futility of the brave parent geese standing between their young and an approaching car as a vehicle approaching from he opposite direction squashes two goslings behind their backs is enough to bring tears to the toughest heart. We saw this happen and it was horrible!”

“The Berea is generally not a good place for these geese to hatch their young,” said Steve. “The best they can hope for, if the goslings do not die falling off a high roof or ledge onto concrete, is that they survive the cars, dogs, cats and people and find their way into someone’s garden and swimming pool. Lawns are wonderful grazing sites for the geese and their goslings, but most people are not happy to share their pool with a family of geese. And even though the goslings can swim well shortly after hatching, they cannot stay in water for extended periods without becoming waterlogged and hypothermic and many end up drowning in swimming pools because they are unable to get out when they need to.”

Rescuing geese from roads, rooftops, gardens and swimming pools on the Berea has become an ongoing, annual mission for ARU, as well as for organizations like CROW, the SPCA and many of the backyard bird-care groups and individuals.

“If we can get to the geese nests and treat the eggs before incubation starts, we can humanely prevent the eggs from developing,” said Steve. “This will greatly reduce the number of sad and unnecessary gosling deaths we all have to deal with on the Berea every year. Please help us to help these birds.”. Ends.

Then suddenly today we had another two monkey rescue callouts.

The first was to Kloof to a young adult male with a severe, open injury to his right ankle. The bones are exposed and separated at the ankle and if we don’t capture him within a day or two for veterinary treatment we won’t be able to save that leg. As it is he has permanently lost normal use of the foot. He is also in great pain and needs our help urgently. Unfortunately he had been very well fed by the time we arrived on the scene and did not respond to our efforts to lure him close enough for capture. With a bit of luck we’ll catch him tomorrow.

Mid-afternoon, after leaving the vet with two young monkeys that we had taken for a check-up, we got a callout to a monkey run over by a car on Trematon Drive near Burman Bush in Morningside. Whilst the caller was on the phone to Carol, I got a call from a second witness to the same incident. Unfortunately the little monkey, a youngster from the last baby season, was already dead by the time we arrived at the scene.

Of course, the day also was punctuated with the usual calls from people with monkey problems. But its heartening that so many people change their attitude to monkeys as soon as we tell them a bit about monkeys – why the monkeys are here, why monkeys behave they way they do in given situations, and how people should and shouldn’t behave when monkeys are around. We will win this one for the monkeys yet. You mark my words!.

A bit earlier this evening I was going through my emails and reading about the number of dogs and cats looking for good homes because their “owners” are emigrating (I’ll share my thoughts on this some other time when there is not much new monkey news to post). Crime in this country is given as one of the primary reasons for this exodus. Aren’t these people fortunate to have the resources and means to seek greener pastures? Not so fortunate are the monkeys who are as frequently as us humans also the victims of crime.

How so?

Take a quick peek at the pic on the right at the top of this page. Does this monkey have freedom of movement? Definitely not! Like hundreds, even thousands, of other monkeys do every day, he has to negotiate his foraging route through razor wire, along spiked fences and walls, across gardens with vicious guard dogs, in-between strands of electric fencing, and past pellet gun wielding lunatics who own pellet guns as much for the sense of macho security it gives them, as to be able to shoot at monkeys, dogs, cats, birds and anything else that their deficient brains inspire them to do, presuming of course that they have a brain!

Every step of the way is fraught with danger directly linked to security measure people take in their efforts to protect themselves against criminals. Too often we have to pick up the victims. Monkeys caught on or ripped to shreds on razor wire, or shocked senseless on faulty electric fencing, or brutally savaged by guard dogs, or impaled on fence spikes, or suffering from the wounds caused by lead pellets. On more than a few occasions we have rescued severely injured monkeys, or picked them up dead, who have been run over by racing, private security vehicles responding to a crime-related callout.

Collateral damage? Not really! Sadly just another category of innocent victims of the South African crime wave!