How to live in harmony with vervet monkeys

There are many vervet monkey colonies around Hartbeespoort and some residents regard them as a nuisance and even dangerous. But If we can be more tolerant, more willing to try out humane, non-lethal ways of dealing with vervets, we will have progressed towards a more compassionate world.

Monkey Helpline’s biggest challenges have been changing the way people see and think about monkeys and in so doing also change the way they respond to the presence of monkeys. This includes busting the myths about monkeys, namely:
• Vervet monkeys are not classified as ‘vermin’ in South Africa.
• Vervet monkeys are not ‘breeding out of control’, nor is there a ‘population explosion’.
• Vervet monkeys do not transmit disease. Fears that vervets are carriers of rabies or other infectious diseases that can be transmitted to humans are unfounded. Vervet monkeys are not rabies carriers, and there is not a single recorded case of rabies in a vervet monkey in South Africa. This can be confirmed by the State Vet.
• Vervet monkeys do not randomly attack people or pets. Vervets will threaten any person or other animal they regard as an immediate threat to their safety or that of a fellow troop member, but these threats are merely defensive aggression and are intended only to warn off a possible aggressor and are not carried through to actual attack. Vervets do not attack, but they will bite in self-defense if they are attacked. Concern that vervets will bite children who encounter them in the garden or home are unfounded.

Many say there is currently a population explosion of vervet monkeys. Is this true?

No, this is not true. The rate at which monkeys are dying because of habitat destruction and human introduced factors such as motor vehicles, dogs, guns and pellet guns, electrocution on power lines , trapping, snaring and so on is far higher than their populations can sustain. Because people don’t understand monkeys and because we see them more frequently due to habitat modification and destruction, the belief is that there are more monkeys than ever. Monkeys are also notoriously difficult to count and it always seems that there are more monkeys around than there really are. The idea that natural predators have been eradicated and so monkey numbers are exploding is an absolute myth.

What is the best method of controlling unwanted monkeys?

Use a jet of water from a hose pipe. Monkeys hate water being squirted at them and will always run away if this is done properly. A water pistol or squirt bottle works equally well inside your home.
Monkey Helpline distribute an information sheet that contains all the relevant information people need about monkeys and how to keep them away from those areas where they are not welcome.

What issues exacerbate the problem of unwanted monkeys?

Whenever we find people who are antagonistic towards the presence of monkeys, these people labour under the incorrect assumption that there is an overpopulation of monkeys, that monkeys are dangerous and will attack for no reason, and that they carry diseases such as rabies.

  1. Never tease, copy, mimic or provoke a monkey. Your behavior might be construed by the monkey as a threat of imminent attack.
  2. Never feed monkeys by hand, from your doors or windows, or even on your patio or verandah, and also do not throw food to them. This conditions monkeys into expecting food from you and they might get impatient and try to grab the food out of your hand, so creating the possibility of someone getting scratched or even bitten. If monkeys get given food via doors and windows, this encourages them to come inside and help themselves if you are too slow or not even at home.
  3. If confronted by a monkey who appears aggressive or is interested in what you have in your hand, bag or packet, do not turn and run, and certainly don’t scream. When two monkeys are scrapping and one loses nerve and turns to run, the victor will often give chase for a short while and if they catch the fleeing monkey will pinch, slap, nip or pull their hair. The same situation can arise if a person is confronted by a monkey and then turns and runs away. You cannot outrun a monkey so don’t even try to do so. By screaming as you turn to run you will terrify the monkey and aggravate other monkeys who think your scream is part of your attack on the monkey. This might elicit an aggressive response from the monkeys. If you do come face to face with a monkey who does not move out of your path, just back away slowly but deliberately while continuing to face in the direction of the monkey without actually staring at it. After backing away a few metres, you can casually change direction and take an alternative route.

What to do if you corner a monkey in your house?

The fear of someone being attacked by a monkey they have cornered in their house is also one that persists. Actually, monkeys are so agile that you cannot corner a monkey. A monkey is not threatened by your mere presence in a room and even if you spent the entire day moving round your house with a monkey there, it would simply avoid you and definitely not attack. Only when physically caught, does the monkey try to bite in self-defence.

How can we help stop cruelty against monkeys?

It is only fair and respectful to vervets that people who feel bothered or harassed by them make the effort to know a bit more about these intelligent and entertaining little animals and the reasons why they do some of the things that irritate and anger people.
For example, many people complain that vervets take one bite out of a fruit then drop it. When they do this, vervets are not being wasteful but are actually acting out evolved behaviour. By dropping fresh fruit in the forest or bush they provide ground-dwelling animals such as antelope, mongooses, porcupines and bushpigs with fresh food not accessible to them. These animals often follow troops of vervets around, eating the fruit as it is dropped. Without vervets, these animals would usually only find fruit on the ground that had dropped off the tree once it was overripe and unpalatable.
Vervets are one of nature’s most valuable agents of seed dispersal and play a huge role in indigenous plant growth and regeneration. Many seeds will only germinate after having been through an animal’s digestive system.
We really do have an obligation to try to understand the dilemma facing vervets. Our homes have been built where they once had theirs. We have cultivated gardens and crops where once they foraged for natural foods. We have arbitrarily destroyed their residential area and all they can do now is to try and survive as best they can in an increasingly vervet-unfriendly world.
We do not dismiss the legitimate concerns of those people who have problems with vervets in or around their homes. Monkey Helpline pleads the case for the vervets, so that people understand their dilemma and have sympathy for their plight. Never forget that the vervets you encounter around your home and in your neighbourhood are actually living in what is their ancestral home, an area which that specific troop’s ancestors have occupied since long before the arrival of humans.
If we can be more tolerant, more willing to try out humane, non-lethal ways of overcoming the problems associated with the presence of vervets around our homes, gardens or croplands, then we will have progressed towards a more compassionate world.

Find more information on how to live with vervet monkeys around your home – visit www.monkeyhelpline.co.za

Written by Earl Baillache – South Coast Sun