In the previous blog posting I told you about baby Kyle and how he ended up in the care of Monkey Helpline surrogate mom, Jenny Morgans. It was a sad tale of death and orphaning. Now I can share with you an experience that will bring tears of joy and leave you elated knowing that tragedy can have a happy ending.
But first I must take you back about six weeks prior to the rescue of baby Kyle – (Top pic shows a crying, blood-smeared Kyle newly rescued off his dead mother’s body).
Monkey Helpline was called out to Hudd Road, Athlone Park in Amanzimtoti by Grant Thomson, who had spotted a pregnant female Vervet in his garden with a really bad injury to her left arm. A lover of the Vervet Monkeys, Grant had watched this female as she struggled to compete for food and appeared totally out of sorts because of the severity of her injury, and he felt that we might be able to help her. As soon as we saw her we decided that we needed to trap her and get her to our vet, Dr Kerry Easson of Riverside Veterinary Clinic in Durban North, for a check up and treatment of her injury.
We trapped her and rushed her straight to Kerry who, after sedating her, diagnosed a severe and badly infected bite wound to that region of her left arm above and below the elbow, and cutting right through the muscle and main tendon at the back of her arm just above and through the elbow. Kerry re-attached muscle and tendon and Leila, as Carol had named her, came to the Monkey Helpline High Care to recover.
Three weeks later Kerry checked her almost fully healed injury and declared her fit for release. Our attempts over a number of weeks to reintroduce Leila to her troop failed. The first time we tried to return her to her troop almost ended in disaster. Shortly after we released her, a group of adult females viciously attacked her, chasing her into a house where we managed to recapture her, and during both subsequent attempted releases they were so aggressive towards her whilst she was still confined in our transport cage that we decided it would be too risky to release her in her advanced state of pregnancy. We felt that in her best interests and those of her as yet unborn baby we should now place Leila in a rehabilitation programme.
Unfortunately, two weeks later Leila had a miscarriage, giving birth to a dead but fully formed, close to term, baby!
Now back to baby Kyle!
After taking Kyle into her care, Jenny took him to vet Kerry where a thorough check-up confirmed that he had miraculously survived the violent death of his mother without so much as a scratch or bruise, and that all the blood Jenny had cleaned off him was in fact his mother’s.
Back home, Jenny wrapped Kyle in a blue blanket, bottle-fed him, then carried him with her to check on the monkeys in her outside recovery cage. As Jenny approached the cage, Leila immediately came right up to her and gazed intensely at the blanket. Jenny opened the blanket so that Leila could see Kyle. To Jenny’s amazement Leila reached through the wire and gently touched Kyle. She clearly wanted to take the baby. Jenny phoned us right away, so we raced over to her house to see if Leila would actually take Kyle from Jenny and adopt him as her own.
With Carol trying to video-film the whole thing, Jenny entered Leila’s cage with Kyle. Leila rushed forward, grabbed Kyle from Jenny, tucked him into her body and ran back to her sleeping basket. We held our collective breath as she inspected Kyle and left us in no doubt that she had adopted him the moment she laid eyes on him.
Kyle, though, was not that easily convinced that this was his new mother. He squirmed and twisted and climbed and cried right through the remainder of that day and the next. He was a baby from hell, but Leila did not flinch. She gently pulled him back every time he tried to escape her hold, pushed his face firmly against her nipples encouraging him to suckle, all the time making sure he was safely within the circle of her arms. In his frustration to “escape” to his own mother who, no doubt he still believed was somewhere out there waiting to “rescue” him, he bit and scratched and pulled at any part of Leila’s body he could reach. Her gentle and loving resolve was just awesome to behold and she tolerated everything he could throw at her, holding him tight and kissing him on top of his little head and over his face in an effort to console and comfort him.
Of course Leila had not actually had a baby and it was exactly seven days since her miscarriage, so she had no milk in her breasts. And Kyle was getting hungry, and also grinchy, and he needed food! So we had no choice but to catch Leila and steal Kyle back from her. Jenny kept him with her long enough to give him two good bottle feeds and then gave him back to Leila who grabbed him from Jenny the moment she opened the inner door of the cage. Kyle, his little tummy full of warm milk, spent a comfortable night sleeping tightly clutched to Leila’s comforting body. Throughout the next day, which happened to be Friday, Leila loved and nurtured Kyle whilst he put on his very best brat kid performance. She, on the other hand, was being the best mother any little kid monkey could ever wish for – though he did not yet appreciate his blessing! He did however latch to his adoptive mom’s nipples – both nipples in his mouth at the same time as is the way with Vervet babies – but she still had no milk and this must have contributed greatly to his unhappiness. So once again, at the end of the day, we had the unenviable task of catching Leila and taking Kyle away to be bottle-fed. And once again Laila was waiting at the door to grab Kyle back from Jenny after he had drunk his fill from the bottle.
I must mention that throughout this entire process we were constantly in touch with our good friend, Karen Trendler, one of South Africa’s foremost wildlife care-givers and rehabilitation experts, who is also Monkey Helpline’s rehabilitation and wildlife husbandry advisor. Karen’s calm support and advice were invaluable!
Come Saturday morning and Kyle seemed very content as he suckled from his new mom – (in contrast the centre pic shows a sad, newly orphaned baby Kyle with his rescuer, Karon Hutchison, her husband, Gary, and son, Kyle), and Leila was going about her business unfazed, one protective arm always holding Kyle close and safe. But by that evening Jenny was like a mother hen with a newly hatched brood of chicks who were all running in different directions. She was convinced that Kyle was getting weaker, that he was dehydrated and that we must come and get him for her to bottle-feed again. You see, Jenny is used to being the surrogate mom, where she can feed and feel and touch and love the baby monkey – she is lovingly in control, just like any good mother should be! It was really hard for her to watch baby Kyle from a distance and not know if his tummy had food in it or not! So Carol and I went over and had a good look at Kyle. He seemed fine to us. But, just to be sure, I phoned Karen and discussed with her what I was seeing. She asked the right questions, got the answers and suggested we leave Kyle till the morning and see how he was doing. She reckoned that if he wasn’t acting all irritable, was latched to the nipples, looked bright-eyed and was firmly attached to his new mom, he was probably fine and that in all likelihood Leila was starting to produce milk.
By Sunday morning Kyle was still suckling, wasn’t crying and looked pretty strong. And we haven’t touched him again. He is the happiest, healthiest baby monkey you could ever meet. Leila has milk to spare and is the most awesome mom. She absolutely loves her baby!
So how did this all come together so beautifully after the terrible tragedies that befell Leila and Kyle?
When Leila gave birth to her dead baby, she carried the tiny body for two days. We decided not to take the baby away until she allowed Jenny to do so. When she did put the body down, Jenny went in, picked it up and wrapped it in a blue blanket. Outside the closed inner gate, Jenny put the little bundle on the ground then opened it enough for Leila to see her dead baby. Jenny left it like that for a while then wrapped the baby and took the bundle away. When, five days after taking Leila’s dead baby away in a blue blanket, Jenny showed baby Kyle to Leila and got the response she did, she had by complete coincidence also wrapped Kyle in a blue blanket. Only afterwards when we discussed Leila’s first reaction to Kyle did the importance of the blue blanket strike us. Jenny suddenly recalled that Leila had last seen her dead baby taken away in a blue blanket, and now when Jenny opened a blue blanket again there was “her” baby, alive! Some might scoff at this but we really do think that Leila might believe that Kyle really is her baby. After all, we have rescued little monkeys hit by motor cars or bitten by dogs and left for dead. We have treated them and successfully reunited them with their mothers, three, four, and even up to ten weeks later. The mother has recognized her child and taken it back and the experience is something that we cannot find the words to adequately describe – it is simply mind-blowing!