About two weeks ago I received a call from a friend of mine who works at the Pietermaritzburg SPCA. In her office was a young African man, Linda, who said he had a small, female Vervet monkey at home who was sick and he wanted, a), to have it treated at the SPCA and, b) to get a permit to keep her. My friend knew that if the monkey arrived at the SPCA the owner would be advised to hand her over to the SPCA, and as had happened to a similarly aged pet Vervet a few weeks previously, she would be euthanised. So she phoned and asked me to explain to Linda the procedure for having the Vervet permitted by the provincial conservation authorities.

She put Linda on the line and after spending a few minutes explaining to him that he would under no circumstances be issued a permit to keep the Vervet, that the Vervet would start showing aggressive behaviour that would result in him having to cage-confine her permanently, and that it was not in the Vervets best interests to be deprived the opportunity of being introduced to other Vervets under controlled conditions, he agreed to meet us the next day to hand the monkey into our care.

The next day, which was April 16, 2010, Carol and I met Linda at a prearranged time and place and drove him to his home in Thembalihle outside Pietermaritzburg. As we stopped outside his home, a young monkey tumbled over the door and came bouncing up the bank and onto the fence next to the gate to greet Linda. We guessed her age at about sixteen to eighteen months. Linda reached down and said, “Woza”, and she immediately clambered up his arm and snuggled into his neck. I think Carol and I both had a lump in our throats as we realized that this happiness would soon turn to sadness for both of them as we wrenched her away and left them both devastated. But isn’t that almost always the way it is when we keep wild animals as pets?

We took some photos of Linda and Bongo, as we learnt she had been named. Then as gently as I could I pried Bongo off Linda and wrapped her safely in a towel for Carol to hold as we drove away. Just before we left, Linda, with tears in his eyes, listening to Bongo’s cries of anguish and fear, asked one last time if I would promise to take good care of the little monkey. I gave my word, and at the same time an intense anger overwhelmed me as I visualized the tragic outcome for Bongo had Linda handed her into the “care” of the SPCA in Pietermaritzburg the day before, and the devastating heartbreak and sense of betrayal that would have flooded over Linda. I resolved to put extra effort into informing members of the public of the NSPCA policies relating to primates that are taken into the control of SPCA branches country-wide.

Once away from there we put Bongo into a transport box for both her and our comfort. It was then we realized why Linda had wanted to have her treated by a vet. She suddenly had a seizure which was preceded by screams of what must have been terror or pain and lay on the bottom of the box quivering. It took about five to ten minutes for her to recover sufficiently to sit up and then she kept up a constant chatter of anxiety. This was understandable considering that Linda and his family were her “troop” and being a juvenile, and a female at that, separation from her “troop” was a frightening experience experience.

Once at home we transferred Bongo from the transport box to a holding cage where she could see some of the other young monkeys in our care. It will take a while for her to relax and start feeling comfortable with us, but we are patient and prepared to give her all the time and care she needs, and hopefully she can soon be introduced to other ex-pet monkeys whose only future lies in a sanctuary. It is highly unlikely that Bongo will ever be released into the wild!

But how did Linda actually get Bongo?

Linda says that towards the end of 2008 he was living in Panorama outside Pietermaritzburg. He happened to pass some men who had cornered a mother monkey with her baby still clinging to her and who were throwing stones at the mother monkey trying to kill her so they could eat her. One of the stones knocked Bongo off her mother who managed to escape. Bongo was unconscious from the blow to her head and the men were about to toss her into the bush, saying she was too small for them to eat, when Linda asked them if he could have her.

For two days baby Bongo was in a coma, but then she started slowly regaining consciousness. Linda cared for her diligently, feeding her on human baby milk formula with a small feeding bottle he especially bought for her. She lived in his home as one of the family, loved and pampered by everyone in the household. Her favourite foods were banana, apple and pear.

On three separate occasions the wild monkeys that came around Linda’s home attacked and bit Bongo. One of these attacks was by a large, lone male and she was severely injured. But she learnt to hide in the house when the monkeys came by and Linda and family then moved to Thembalihle where there are no other monkeys. She was a familiar sight to the locals and every day the children living close by would come to visit and feed her. When I phoned Linda later that first evening to tell him that Bongo was safe and comfortable, he said that the children had just been to visit Bongo and were saddened to learn that she had been taken away by us.

The moment we drove away from Linda with Bongo wrapped in a towel and held against Carol’s chest, that little money started a journey that will see her become a real monkey, with real monkeys as her family and even though it is unlikely, though not impossible, that she will ever join a rehabilitation programme, she will live the best life possible in a sanctuary where she will be bonded with other Vervets who for various reasons cannot be released to the wild but who deserve to be given a chance at life!

PS. The National Council of SPCA’s has a policy which states that any indigenous primate, but particularly Vervet Monkeys and Baboons, that come into the hands of any SPCA in South Africa, and who cannot be released back to the wild within five days or be sent to an SPCA-accredited rehabilitation facility, MUST BE EUTHANISED at that SPCA or at the vet used by that SPCA. So, if you want to be sure that the monkey or baboon you have rescued or cared for is given the best chance of being properly rehabilitated or placed in a reputable sanctuary, don’t just presume that this will happen if you surrender the animal to your local SPCA. Rather contact the Monkey Helpline first and we will assist and advise you in order to ensure the most ethically acceptable outcome for the animal!

In a future blog posting I will unpack the NSPCA’s reasoning that led to its adoption of the policy that would have resulted in the euthanasia of Bongo had Linda surrendered her to the Pietermaritzburg SPCA!


Baby Vervet Number Six – Mignon

Found lying on the ground in a complex by the gate security guard, little Mignon, as she was named, was a tiny premature baby who weighed only 200 grams. Most Vervet babies have a birth weight of between 300 and 400 grams, which tells you just how small she was. She was only a few hours old and the likely reason she was away from her mother is that she was too weak to hold on. Why she was born so prematurely we don’t know, but in all likelihood her mother was traumatized by an injury caused by a dog, car or pellet gun and was unable to keep her baby with her – presuming her mother was still alive, of course!

By the time Mignon was picked up and brought to us she had been bitten by ants and had hundreds of fly eggs on her. Very close to death she was cleaned and treated by Carol and Monkey Helpline surrogate mom, Jenny Morgans, then taken into 24 hour care by Carol. Too weak to suckle she had milk formula dripped into her mouth every fifteen minutes. Carol never put her down and even slept sitting up with little Mignon on her chest, feeling Carol’s warmth and protection and, most importantly, feeling the comfort of Carol’s heartbeat.

Once Mignon started digesting the milk formula, she immediately had an allergic reaction to it and angry red blotches appeared all over her small body. Exit the milk formula and to the rescue Angela, Jenny’s daughter who was still breast-feeding her own baby, little Andrew, and had milk to spare. Primate breast milk was just what Mignon needed and almost miraculously the red botches started clearing up and were gone within a day. With Angela expressing enough milk to provide for Mignon’s needs each day it appeared that the tiny Vervet had a more than even chance at survival. But this was not to be and on day four she started to slip visibly downhill. A desperate visit to our vet, Dr Kerry Easson, confirmed that she was showing signs of underdeveloped lung function, which results in a fluid/mucous build-up in the lungs A renewed, but very brief, interest in her bottle later in the evening had Carol ever hopeful that she would fight through this setback, but sadly this was not to be. Carol woke me at 2 in the morning to say that Mignon was in a coma. She looked so peacefully asleep as Carol held her close to her heart. But it was a sleep she would not wake up from.

We buried her, facing the rising sun, under a beautiful Quinine tree in the front garden.

International Primate Day – September 1, 2009

Primate suffering, abuse, exploitation and persecution in South Africa will be highlighted on September 1 this year when Animal Rights Africa (ARA) joins the growing international effort to publicise the plight of primates the world over.

International Primate Day, which is observed on September 1 every year, was founded in 2005 by British-based Animal Defenders International for animal campaigners across the world to focus on the exploitation and persecution of primates.

Steve Smit, ARA trustee and joint coordinator of the ARA primate project, Monkey Helpline, said, “Primates in South Africa face a variety of threats to their safety and survival which are largely ignored by an ignorant or uncaring public. South African baboons and Vervet monkeys in particular are amongst the most misunderstood, maligned and persecuted animals in our country and suffer horrendously at the hands of intolerant and cruel humans. Not only are they the targeted victims for the “bushmeat” trade, for use by the entertainment industry, for the pet trade and as research subjects in laboratories, they are also relentlessly persecuted as so-called “pests and vermin” in both urban and agricultural areas where they are trapped, poisoned and shot in large numbers. Many fall victim to the cruelty of the traditional medicine (muti) trade and superstition”.

Smit said that ARA will ensure that in future International Primate Day will be observed annually throughout South Africa on September 1 and invited all specialist primate groups and other animal caring groups throughout the country to make a special effort for primates on this day. “Closer to the date we will announce various events that will take place on the day, but we can announce now that we will be handing over a memorandum to the national Minister of Safety and Security, or a representative from his ministry, calling for more stringent controls on the use of air-guns (pellet guns) which are a major source of injury, maiming and death in Vervet monkeys and baboons in both urban and agricultural areas. Amongst other things, we will also organize special events at schools and in various public places to educate South Africans about the five species of indigenous primates and why they deserve our respect and protection against exploitation and persecution”.

The pics on this page show, from top to bottom, a mother Vervet monkey and her baby of about six months sitting on a palisade fence in Umhlanga in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN). We had to rescue a baby off an identical fence after it fell from a tree and impaled itself, through one arm and one leg, on two of the three points on each vertical. The mother was frantic as we gently released the terrified baby from its grizzly fate. The injuries were severe and the baby spent months recovering in our home-based “high care”. When the little one had recovered we attempted to reintroduce it to the troop but without success. It has now been placed in rehabilitation for release in a few years time.

The centre pic shows Carol holding a sedated female Vervet we rescued in Amanzimtoti south of Durban, KZN today. Severely injured and crippled, with numerous cuts on her legs and hind-quarters, a severed left achilles tendon and her right eye socket devoid of an eyeball, we took her to our vet, Dr Kerry Easson, who came in to treat the monkey even though it was her day off. X-rays revealed 8 airgun pellets in her body and two in her head, one of which is embedded in the back of the socket that used to contain her right eyeball. We can only speculate how many other pellets had struck her body and passed right through, like the pellet that entered her left temple and exited above her left eye taking with it a chunk of bone. Under the skillful and caring treatment of Kerry and the tender care of Carol whilst in our “high care”, she will hopefuly recover sufficiently to be able to spend her remaining years being spoilt by Shesh and Malcolm Roberts at the five star Tumbili Primate Sanctuary in Ashburton near Pietermaritzburg, KZN.

The bottom pic shows me with Lilo, an 8-week old baby baboon who came into Carol’s care and in just 15 days changed her life forever. We’ll tell you more about Lilo in a seperate posting.

Thursday, June 18, 2009-06-18

Help us to help the Vervets and other primates

The purpose of this blog is to highlight the plight of Vervet monkeys and other primates in KwaZulu-Natal and throughout South Africa and the rest of the world.

To do this we tell you about the work we do, how we do it and what we strive to achieve. To understand the enormity of the battle we face you have only to look at the number of Vervet rescues we do every day, and when you consider that it is only Carol and I and a small team of dedicated rescue supporters who are actively involved, you can imagine how many more Vervets need our help every day yet we don’t even know about them.

Even with our small team we could achieve so much more – rescue many more animals, and educate countless more people if all the people who care about primates and know about the work we do would do something to actively help and support us.

So how can you help?

More than anything else the monkeys need friends, people who respect them and care for them and who are prepared to take a hand in helping them survive in this increasingly monkey-unfriendly world.

There are many ways you can help – becoming a rescuer or rescue assistant, helping educate people about monkeys by handing out information leaflets or doing or arranging talks about monkeys to schools and other groups, helping out at our information tables such as the one at Essenwood Market every Saturday, becoming a troop monitor, helping with building monkey enclosures, or working at our high care clinic. All this and much more –

Such as becoming a Monkey Helpline VIP (Vervet Interested Person) supporter and recruiting more VIP supporters, becoming a Sponsor, Donor or doing fundraising.

Make a donation.

Without sufficient funds we can’t operate. The fuel for our vehicle, the cell phone communication, veterinary costs, food for the monkeys in our high care and the many other costs associated with the successful running of this project are entirely dependent on public donations, supporter membership fees and sponsorships!

For more about “how you can help”, contact the Monkey Helpline:

Steve on 082 659 4711 or Carol on 082 411 5444 or email .

Banking Details for deposits into the Monkey Helpline account:

– Account name: Monkey Helpline
– Bank : Standard Bank
– Branch : Melville
– Account number: 081385439
– Branch code : 006105
– Type of account: Cheque
– Swift code: SBZAZAJJ

– Reference: Your organization, cell/mobile phone number or email

January to June 2009

Its been a while since this blog was updated, but new information will be posted every day if possible and at the very least every week from here on.

It has been a hectic year so far for the Monkey Helpline with rescue callouts every day – and we still average three rescues every two days, with six rescues on each of the past two Saturdays.

Currently we have 27 monkeys in our “high care!

This year to date we have also done in excess of forty educational talks about Vervet monkeys to schools and other community groups, manned our outreach table at the Essenwood Craft Market every Saturday and promoted the work of Monkey Helpline and Animal Rights Africa in many other public forums. We continue to distribute thousands of information leaflets.

Looking at the statistics of Vervet monkeys dealt with by the Monkey Helpline so far this year, it is shocking to know how many of these monkeys actually died.

In the period 1 January 2009 to 17 May 2009, 137 days, we dealt with 143 dead monkeys – just more than one dead monkey every day! These monkeys were euthanased, died en route to the vet, died during or after veterinary treatment, or in some cases were already dead on our arrival.

67 deaths were the result of motor vehicle accidents.

29 deaths were the result of pellet gun injuries

22 deaths were the result of injuries caused by dogs

12 deaths were the result of injuries caused by other monkeys

13 deaths were due to poisoning, razor-wire, electrocution, raptors, Tetanus or snares. One was burnt with hot oil.

These figures do not reflect those monkeys dealt with by any other primate handling groups in KZN.

X-rays show that over eighty percent of the monkeys rescued or retrieved by the Monkey Helpline have air gun pellets lodged in their bodies, rarely only one pellet, mostly between two and eight pellets, some with ten to fifteen pellets.

If one considers that the Monkey Helpline is only dealing with the tip of the ice-berg when it comes to rescuing or retrieving sick, injured, orphaned or otherwise in-need-of-help Vervets in KZN, the rate at which the Vervet population in KZN, particularly in and around towns and cities, is being decimated should set alarm bells ringing. It certainly makes a mockery of those claims that there is a population explosion of Vervets and that they are breeding out of control. Now more than ever they need our protection and care, especially when you consider that our “dead file” has 29 new entries just for the first 15 days of June!

(PS. The figure of 143 dead monkeys in the first 137 days of 2009 was subsequently adjusted to 154 after some misfiled admission records were re-filed)