Monkeys in the news – again!

What follows formed the basis of a good article that recently appeared in the “Fever” news tabloid which is distributed free of charge to residents of the upper South Coast area of KwaZulu-Natal. The article sparked a good response from readers, most of which was positive and supportive of Monkey Helpline and the monkeys :-

Yesterday was a typical day for Monkey Helpline rescuers, Steve Smit and Carol Booth, and that two of their rescue calls were from the Amanzimtoti and Winklespruit area came as no surprise.

“We have come to expect that a disproportionately high number of monkeys in this area are victims of the deliberately cruel actions of people who are intolerant of monkeys and who believe that they can injure or kill monkeys with impunity”, said Steve.

“Our first rescue yesterday in Winklespruit was a mature adult male Vervet with severe bite wounds to his lower back and neck. These could have been the result of a fight with another male monkey. However, the injuries did not appear to be the cause of the monkey’s poor state of health and we suspect that x-rays will reveal one of more lead pellets that have been deliberately shot into the monkey as he moved around his territory”.

(Top pic shows Nico, as he was named by John from Winklespruit who kept an eye on this monkey until rescuers arrived to catch him, in a transport box en route to the vet for a check up. He is recovering well from the terrible wounds that were so infected he was dying from the toxins flooding through his body. Initially the wounds did not seem to be the main cause of his poor state, but as the infected wounds healed, it became obvious that they had indeed been the cause of his debilitated state.)

Steve says that over eighty percent of all the monkeys rescued by Monkey Helpline over the past number of years have got lead pellets lodged in various parts of their body. “Many of these monkeys were in the process of dying a slow and painful death and those who could not be saved by veterinary intervention had to be humanely euthanised. Shooting animals with a pellet gun is extremely cruel, unnecessary and illegal and we will lay charges against any person identified as discharging a pellet gun in a residential area, whether or not they are actually shooting at monkeys or any other animal. Discharging or even pointing a pellet gun in a residential area or anywhere that poses a danger to another person or property is illegal in terms of specific paragraphs of Section 120 of the Firearm Control Act, At 60 of 2000. Shooting an animal with a pellet gun is also an offence in terms of the Animal Protection Act”.

The second rescue yesterday was in the Amanzimtoti area in Hudd Road, Athlone Park, and sadly was a little female monkey only eighteen months only. “She had been shot into her head, the pellet smashing through her left eyebrow and lodging in her brain. She stumbled around for hours as her brain swelled and eventually she fell off a garden wall and thrashed about on the ground until she died”. The person who called Monkey Helpline to rescue the little monkey thought she had been poisoned, but as soon as Steve and Carol arrived on the scene they noticed the pellet wound to the monkey’s head. “She suffered terrible pain and anxiety before dying”, said Steve. “She tried to keep up with her troop as it moved along but became disorientated and lost her way. A neighbour said he had seen her in his garden earlier that day and realized that something was wrong with her, but she disappeared before he could phone for help”.

(Lower pic – Fifteen-year-old Shannon Wood, the schoolgirl pro-Vervet crusader, who helps out at the Monkey Helpline “high care” every spare moment she has, goes on rescues with us and also takes care of baby and “special care” Vervets, holds the little monkey who died horribly after being shot in Hudd Road, Amanzimtoti. She also sets up and manages our education table at the Essenwood Market every Saturday. She is one awesome little lady!)

Steve appealed to people having problems with the presence of monkeys to call Monkey Helpline for advice on how to deter them humanely. “We have helped thousands of people throughout KwaZulu-Natal and elsewhere in South Africa who have had problems with the presence of monkeys, and those who say our advice does not work for them are in a minority who just don’t want to make the relatively small effort to put our suggestions into practice”.

At the time of the rescue in Hudd Road, Monkey Helpline volunteers leafleted the area with information about pellet gun cruelty and the legal consequences of discharging a pellet gun in a residential area. During this process the volunteers met a number of Athlone Park residents who were horrified about the shooting of the little monkey and undertook to report any person they saw using a pellet gun. “This was absolutely the same response we get wherever we go”, said Steve. “Only a small minority of people will deliberately resort to cruel and illegal methods to kill monkeys or chase them away from their property. With the support of law-abiding and caring people we will identify the shooters and we will have them prosecuted”.

Getting nespapers to run articles on Monkey helpline and the plight of Vervet monkeys in Southy Africa is critically important to the success of our efforts on behalf of these persecuted, maligned and misunderstood little animals. If readers of this post have any contacts in the media who they can get to write pro-monkey articles, then please get them to contact us!

Freedom

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!

And all those monkeys?

People often ask us what happens to the monkeys we rescue, which is a pretty intelligent question, sometimes! I mean, what would you think if these two crazy people arrived in response to your desperate phone call, jumped out of their vehicle brandishing nets and carrying a transport box, cornered a large, really fierce and angry looking male Vervet, then netted him, tossed him into the box and disappeared over the horizon?

Well, its not quite that bad and we don’t “toss” monkeys into boxes – well not that often, anyway, and lots of the monkeys we catch are not “large, really fierce and angry looking male Vervets”. Many are tiny, recently born babies who are the victims of various mishaps, even being shot with pellet guns. YES, pellet guns, even though you can hardly imagine that their can be such scum, sub-humans alive who would actually aim a pellet gun at a six week-old baby and shoot a pellet into its little body, smashing flesh and bone and ending a miracle that had only just begun!

But back to the question. If you consider that we rescue an average of three monkeys every two days, what do we do with all the monkeys?

Sadly, a lot of the monkeys we get called out to are dead by the time we get to them, or die en route to the vet, or are euthanised at the vet due to the severity of their injuries or illness, or die after treatment because their injury or illness was so bad. But many also survive. All sick or injured monkeys rescued by Monkey Helpline are taken to our vet, usually Dr Kerry Easson at Riverside Veterinary Clinic in Durban North, but if necessary also the great vets at Northdene vet clinic in Queensburgh or the Westville vet hospital in Westville, the wonderful after hours vets and nurses at the Sherwood emergency vet clinic in Sherwood, Durban, or Dr Mike Toft at the Waterfall vet clinic in Waterfall outside of Kloof and Hillcrest where they are.checked over and treated, then moved to Carol’s house in Westville, where I also happen to live, and are cared for by Carol until they are ready to be released back where they came from, moved to a rehabilitation centre or a sanctuary depending on whether they can be returned to freedom, or placed with a human surrogate mom if they are still young babies. Some are subsequently ehthanised if they do not respond positively to treatment, but this is a decision taken only after discussion between ourselves and the vet. In every decision made about the treatment and future of any monkey we rescue, quality of life is at the top of the list of considerations. It is always about the monkeys – never about us! And in making critical decisions about the treatment and future of any monkey we can always rely on the advice and support of our great friend and Monkey Helpline care and rehabilitation advisor, Karen Trendler and also veterinary primate specialist, Dr Bruce Peck.

Carol has set aside two adjacent rooms in her house that serve as the Monkey Helpline “high care”, and it is here that the monkeys spend time in cages suited to their condition until such time as they are ready to move on. Considering that some monkeys come into our care with broken limbs, severe concussion or other serious injuries or illness, their period of convalescence can be as much as six months, during which time they become unfit and suffer visible muscle atrophy. Before being released they need to exercise and regain fitness as well as balance and hand, foot and eye coordination. So they are first moved to large exercise cages in the garden where they spend at least two weeks getting survival fit and strong again. Then they are boxed and transported to a pre-selected release site and set free to meet whatever new challenges life throws at them. When monkeys are rescued by us and subsequently released by us, irrespective of how long we care for them, these are known as “hot releases”, because they don’t entail the lengthy rehabilitation process of release – this latter process, if done correctly, can take up to three years of bonding a “troop” of genetically unrelated monkeys and takes place at a registered rehabilitation centre and release site.

Female Vervet monkeys, unlike males, have to be released back into the troop of their birth. If released into the territory of another troop of Vervets they will be attacked and severely injured, often killed, by the resident females and their offspring. The reason for this is that female Vervets are fiercely protective of their territory which they never leave from birth till death – it is their ancestral home! The female Vervets you see at any given place are the descendents of female Vervets who lived in that territory many generations ago, over a period that could literally have spanned hundreds of years. The upshot of this female territoriality is that if for whatever reason a female cannot be released back to her troop, she must be placed at one of the rehabilitation facilities or at a sanctuary.

Any monkey not yet an adult and who cannot be released back to his/her troop of birth will be placed at a rehabilitation facility or sanctuary, with rehabilitation always the first prize.

As far as babies are concerned, their rescue, care and rehabilitation is so specific that I will do a separate blog just for them. Suffice to say that as soon as possible after being rescued, a baby monkey, and here we are talking about new-borns to three months old, is placed with a human surrogate mom, who is registered with the provincial conservation authority after successfully completing a two-day “early care” course and also being able to care for the babies in a manner prescribed in specially drafted Norms and Standards. As a rescue organization we are not ideally placed to care for baby Vervets so as soon as we are able to, immediately if possible, they are transferred to a surrogate mom. If injured in any way or ill, they remain with us in Carol’s care, or with Monkey Helpline baby care-giver and also registered surrogate mom, Jenny Morgans, until sufficiently recovered to be transferred. Tragically, so many babies were orphaned this past “baby-season”, that all the surrogate moms reached more than double the recommended capacity and Carol has ended up caring for eighteen babies after we had already transferred seventeen babies to surrogate moms. Jenny is fortunate to have the assistance of her daughter Angela and her housekeeper, Agnes, in caring for her monkey babies. Both are registered surrogate moms. A priceless bonus for both Jenny and Carol is fourteen-year-old Shannon Wood who spends every spare moment helping out with the monkeys. Shannon even has her own Monkey Helpline Facebook site. (Look up Shannon Wood on Facebook)

That’s it in a nutshell. But don’t forget that monkeys in captivity have to be fed, medicated when necessary, and their cages kept clean, by Carol and me! This starts at dawn every day and only ends when the monks go to sleep in the evening. When you are caring for anywhere between twenty and fifty monkeys – forty as I sit here typing – in a high care facility, a spare moment is an extremely rare commodity. It also means that everything other than catching monkeys, taking them to the vet, and caring for them as they recover, gets done between 10pm and 3am the following morning.
The pics you see here from top to bottom are just a few of the seriously injured monkeys we managed to rescue, treat and, after recovery, release to their troop, place in a rehabilitation programme or send to a sanctuary.
The little six-week old girl in the top pic was severely injured during a fight between her mother and other monkeys. With good veterinary care and Carol’s tlc she recovered to the point of being able to live amongst other monkeys at the Tumbili Sanctuary of Shesh and Dr Malcolm Roberts in Ashburton near Pietermaritzburg.
The second pic is a juvenile male Vervet who fell into an oil trap at a refinery south of Durban. We managed to clean all the oil off him and also out of his tummy and intestines and released him to his delighted mother two weeks later.
The third pic is of a sub-adult Vervet caught in a snare in the up-market suburb of La Lucia north of Durban. The snare was removed, the wounds sutured and he was released back to his troop two weeks later.
The large adult male in the bottom pic sustained horrendous injuries to his right thigh and calf muscles when he jumped from a tree, whilst defending his position as alpha male against a would-be challenger, and was impaled on a steel palisade fence. That he even survived was a miracle. Not only did he survive but, due to the awsome skills of Dr Max Taylor of the Northdene Vetereinary Clinic in Queensburgh, he regained almost full use of his leg and is now the alpha male of a troop being prepared for rehabilitation at the WATCH Vervet facility near Vryheid.
And now I can just see you all shedding tears for us. So sweet. Thank you!