RIP, Grumpy Face!

Sometimes I wake up and I just know it’s going to be one of “those weeks”.

How do I know this? I don’t know, but I do. Experience has taught me that some things, though not many, it is better I do not know!

Anyway, it was Monday morning, August 16th, and “one of those weeks” started! Not the busiest week we’ve ever had – just uncoordinated and bitty! Rushing at the last moment to do a school talk that hadn’t been confirmed until two minutes previously. This after spending the time before and after dropping kids at school discouraging the resident Juvenile Crowned Eagle from honing her hunting skills on any of the twenty-one cats who have found a home with us. Perched high in the old Flamboyant tree (top pic), she is a magnificent animal and we are really privileged to have her spend so much time in our garden, even if the monkeys recovering in the outside cages don’t appreciate her presence in the same way we do. In fact, harsh as it might seem, her visits are good for our juvenile monkeys who were rescued as orphans, because they have gained very valuable life skills from her presence, as our older monkeys, who know what a threat Crowned Eagles are to Vervet monkeys, saturate the upper end of the valley with alarm calls for as long as the eagle is in sight. All the younger monkeys hide in the back of their cage in silence and won’t even peep out until the older monkeys sound the “all clear”.

Usually our day starts with cleaning cages and feeding monkeys. We get as much done as possible before taking kids to school, and hope like crazy that we don’t get an urgent rescue call before we have the time to get home, finish what cleaning and feeding still needs doing and then jump into the shower or bath.

An uneventful Tuesday was followed by a hectic Wednesday. Dropping kids at school early enough to be able to negotiate Pinetown’s early morning traffic so that we could get to a school talk by 7.50, we got a call from monkey-lover, Brenda, about a monkey attacked by a dog in the garden of a Manor Gardens home at the upper end of her road. So, whilst rushing to rescue the monkey, we called and rescheduled the school talk for next week. Arriving at the scene of the incident we saw that the injured monkey was a magnificent male from the troop that Brenda feeds at her home every day, and from which we had previously, on separate occasions, trapped and treated two members in need of urgent veterinary attention. During the time spent trapping the monkeys at Brenda’s house, Carol had got to know this particular monkey very well, even naming him “Grumpy Face”. By the time we arrived at the house where Grumpy Face had been attacked, he had already climbed a tree and was just out of our reach. Seriously injured after being bitten into the chest by the dog, a large male Rhodesian Ridgeback, he was still mobile enough to avoid capture as I climbed the tree in an attempt to get close enough to net him. So, darting with a sedative was the only way to go!

Enter Senior Inspector Dougie Du Plessis of the Durban SPCA, who arrived as soon as he could after we called him, considering he had to traverse Durban during morning rush-hour traffic. A well-placed dart galvanized Grumpy Face into action and he clambered painfully into the highest, thinnest branches of the tree, with all the rescuers and volunteers who had gathered, surrounding the tree to block his escape should he decide to try and get out of the tree. But he had no such intentions and just clung to the branches as if his life depended on it, which it did, trying to find a comfortable position to ease the pain that must have been swamping his body with every breath and movement.

After what seemed an eternity we all agreed that he looked drowsy enough for me to climb the tree and attempt a net capture. Not that easy because of the way a Cedar tree grows its branches, but eventually, after abandoning the net, with Carol and Dougie and the volunteer team below ready to catch the monkey if he fell, I managed to snare his tail using a catch-pole, and with him still having plenty of fight left in him in spite of his injuries and the sedatives, I guided him down the tree as gently as I could, making sure of keeping clear of his lethal canines!

Brenda just broke into tears at the sight of one of her beloved monkeys so injured and close to death. We got Grumpy Face to the vet as fast as we could, but sadly he died literally as we arrived there. What a tragedy to see such a magnificent animal die so senselessly (bottom pic shows a heart-broken Carol holding Grumpy Face just after he died). With the dog’s owner having initially claimed that the monkey attacked his dog for no reason, though Carol very quickly put him right on that by explaining that monkeys only ever bite dogs in self defense and never just attack a dog because they are vindictive or having a bad day, we were left wondering whether there was another dog- bitten monkey to whose defense Grumpy Face had rushed, bravely sacrificing his own life in the process.

With most of his troop in close attendance during the entire rescue operation, we certainly had not seen any other injured monkey, and a post-rescue search also yielded nothing. What we did see and which touched the hearts of all who had gathered, was the pregnant female monkey who stayed close throughout the whole incident, calling gently to Grumpy Face in an attempt to entice him to follow the troop, which, for the safety of all its members usually only stays in the same place for as long as is necessary and must keep moving throughout its territory. It is a sobering experience to watch a troop of monkeys milling around anxiously as they delay their departure in the hope that their injured troop-mate will regain the strength needed to follow them. But eventually they do leave and in this case the loyal female was forced to leave too, as the safety of her unborn baby and that of her one year–old remained her primary responsibility!

Look out for the upcoming separate blog postings in which I’ll share with you the collection of incidents that coloured the remaining days of the week!