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!