How many deaths will it take till we know…

Its that time of the year again when pregnant Vervet mothers are getting to the end of their seven month pregnancy. It’s a bad time for them because they are that much slower than usual and so are more vulnerable than usual to being hit by motor cars as they cross roads, being caught by dogs as they pass through gardens or shot by sadistic, pellet gun wielding morons as they forage for food in residential areas.

In the past two weeks we have rescued a young adult, first-time pregnant, Vervet from other monkeys who had viciously attacked her over the course of a few days. Her injuries were bad but not life-threatening, if correctly treated – which was done by our vet, Dr Kerry Easson of Riverside Veterinary Clinic, Durban North. Unfortunately, this extremely stressed young monkey aborted her baby ten days after being rescued. It was so very sad watching her as she gently touched her perfect, but dead, baby lying in the bottom of her cage . After giving her a short while to deal with her loss, we removed both baby and afterbirth. Hopefully she will be able to enjoy the proud pleasure of her own baby next year.

Another female in an advanced stage of pregnancy was hit by a motor vehicle right outside Equitack, the animal feed store in Assagay where we buy our monkey nuts and bird food. The monkey-friendly staff there called us immediately and we managed to get the monkey to Kerry within an hour. Having taken a terrible blow to the head she was in a comatose state and had to be syringe fed. After being in our care for a few days she started a spontaneous abortion of her baby. Not having the conscious ability to deal with this process she was in danger of dying a slow and painful death. We rushed her to Kerry who, after establishing that the baby was definitely dead, did the necessary surgery (pic on the left) to try and save the mother’s life. Opening the blood-filled womb Kerry found a dead baby and a totally detached placenta – the result of a severe impact to her body as she was hit by the car. We were devastated when, after seeming to rally well after the operation, she died during the night.

Last Thursday we rescued a young female Vervet in Umhlanga – see our previous Blog post – who was inexplicably blind and in a total daze. She was also heavily pregnant! Within a day-and-a-half she fully regained sight and also her awareness, and she seems totally recovered from whatever afflicted her. Her unborn baby too seems fine and she is now very ready for release as is obvious from her constant attempts to escape from her holding cage. Our plans to release her this past Sunday came to nought as we were unable to find her troop and were very reluctant to release her to face the world without the support back-up of her troop-mates. Fortunately we met a security guard close by who knows her troop well. He is on duty six-to-six every day and will phone us as soon as he sees her troop. It will be good to have a happy ending to this rescue!

Not so good the ending to the rescue we were called out on this afternoon. A mature female Vervet in the late stages of pregnancy was hit by a car in Umhlanga Rocks Drive, La Lucia Ridge. We received a call from Paul who said his wife had phoned him to say she had seen a monkey run over and that she had stopped to try and prevent other cars running over it as it dragged itself to the centre island and into a flower bed. We aso got a call from Mark who said he had seen the same monkey dragging herself over the road with cars literally driving over her, their wheels just missing her.

Tragically she died in Carol’s arms at the vet clinic as Kerry, who was on leave for the day and had responded immediately to our call for help, arrived to attend to her. The baby in her womb was still alive but unable to survive such a premature entry into this world, so with heavy hearts we watched as Kerry euthanased it.

Right now this world really is not a good place for monkeys. Fortunately we get great support for our animal rescue work from the Caxton group of community newspapers, which is what happened last year when the Northglen News asked us for a piece on how people can help monkeys, and especially moms and babies at this time of the year. What we sent them follows and formed the basis of their published article on the subject. The same article would not be out of place or time if published by them, and other newspapers in the group, again this year:

“The following in response to your request:

This is the time of year when, after about 200 days of pregnancy, female Vervet monkeys are giving birth to their babies. It is a very dangerous time for mothers and babies. Because urban and industrial development has impacted so heavily on the monkeys’ habitat, they have to cross many roads and pass through gardens with vicious dogs just to be able to get around their territory looking for food very day. Heavily pregnant mothers, and mothers with babies, are at even greater risk because it is so much more difficult for them to cross roads quickly, scale high perimeter walls or climb into trees when they are trying to avoid motor cars or fierce dogs. “As a consequence, many of these pregnant females or mothers with newly born babies are hit by motor cars or caught by dogs, resulting in the death or serious injury of both the mother and baby, or premature birth and death of the baby” says Monkey Helpline rescuer and spokesperson, Carol Booth.

“This year the Monkey Helpline has rescued more injured, heavily pregnant female monkeys than at any time in the past,” says Booth. “In recent weeks our high care facility has resembled a maternity ward full of injured, pregnant mothers. The sad thing is that with the exception of only two out twelve, they have all lost their babies due to the trauma they have suffered.”

Booth also said that from the number of reports received from Monkey Helpline monitors and members of the public, there is also a higher than before number of mother monkeys carrying around dead babies. “This could be the result of the drought we have been experiencing as well as extremely high stress levels that the monkeys have to endure in the increasingly monkey-unfriendly world they are being forced to try and survive in.” she said.

Booth says that the Monkey Helpline has even rescued a female monkey whose baby was killed in her womb after it was hit by two pellets from a pellet gun. “She was very obviously pregnant and the callous person who shot her must have known this.”

Booth appealed to motorists to help pregnant monkeys by slowing down when they noticed monkeys crossing the roads and to be alert to the possibility of a young monkey darting across the road in an effort to catch up to its mother. And dog-owners should control or confine their dogs when the monkeys are around. “As we have said, the heavily pregnant and new mother monkeys are much slower than the other monkeys and they need any help we can spare.”

Lastly, even though the sight of monkeys carrying babies often evokes a response that “there are monkeys everywhere” and that a monkey “population explosion” is imminent, nothing could be further from the truth. Most baby monkeys, over seventy-five percent in fact, die before they reach adulthood. “Added to this devastating juvenile death rate is the high number of older monkeys being killed on our roads, killed by dogs, shot with pellet guns, caught in snares and traps, poisoned, etc, – we are definitely looking at the reality of urban monkey extinction in the not to distant future if things don’t improve drastically for the monkeys. No population of animals, no matter how adaptive to changing conditions, can survive such an indiscriminate onslaught. Over extended periods the Monkey Helpline rescues an average of three monkeys every two days. Over a recent two-day period we rescued eight injured and dying monkeys, half of whom were heavily pregnant mothers.”

Given our experiences over the past few weeks, things are not going to be any better for pregnant monkey moms, or new moms and babies, this year. I would so love to be wrong!!