Following the despicable killing by poisoning of 13 Vervet monkeys in Umdloti recently, I felt the need to give some exposure to a dedicated animal welfare organisation that was directly involved in rescuing 9 surviving monkeys that they managed to capture for treatment and hopefully, rehabilitation.
Monkey Helpline has been involved in the rescue of Vervets since 1995, and when I met with the founder, Steve Smit, one of the deeply concerning things that he told me is that the need for Monkey Helpline's services and expertise has escalated to such an extent that he and his partner, Carol Booth, are currently going on up to 5 call outs PER DAY, 7 days a week. The “good” reason for this increase is a heightened awareness by the public of Monkey Helpline's services but the “bad” reason is the encroachment of humans on the monkeys' territories. Development is important, but so is the welfare of the wildlife in the areas under development. Human encroachment not only means less natural food sources for the monkeys, but also means more roads (and more vehicles); more dogs, which often attack an "uneducated" or a careless monkey; more razor wire, which can inflict terrible injuries; and more power lines which the monkeys use as a means of getting from one place to the next, but often with fatal consequences. Also, unfortunately more and more monkeys are being shot with pellet guns (and worse!) and are also being caught in snares and even gin traps. Steve told me “Over eighty percent of the monkeys we rescue have got air gun pellets lodged in their bodies. Lead pellets cause terrible pain, suffering and a lingering death and no person - adult or child - should ever shoot monkeys with a pellet gun.”
Steve and Carol are passionate about what they do and one of their prime aims is to educate people about monkeys and to help them to understand how monkeys think and what steps one can take to prevent monkeys from “becoming a problem”. They give talks to schools; residents of estates and complexes; garden clubs; conservation bodies; and even the police. One thing that Steve said during our interview stuck with me. He said that monkeys do not consciously make a decision to “steal” (unlike human beings!) They are constantly looking for food and if they see a bowl of fruit or a loaf of bread on the table in a house, their own hunger and survival is all that they are interested in. The resultant mess is just monkeys being monkeys, not the result of vandalism or evil intent (like humans!!). They also do not attack and bite people without being threatened or provoked and, by the way, they DO NOT carry rabies. Steve said that Vervet monkeys are amongst the most misunderstood, maligned and persecuted of animals in South Africa, and certainly in KZN.
There are ways that you can eco-sensitively and humanely discourage monkeys from “invading” your property. The obvious ones are not to leave food in sight; not to feed them because this encourages them and they will not know that not all humans are going to feed them; and to take preventative measures. You can have a few rubber snakes dotted around strategically (and moved now and then); or there are window and door screens, which also keep out other “unwanteds” like snakes and insects; and there are special security gates and burglar proofing that will keep monkeys out of the house.
The 24hour rescue aspect of Steve and Carol’s jobs is the most traumatic, and the most costly. With them responding to more than 1000 call outs a year, the “high care” unit is kept busy with the injured and the orphaned and currently they have over 200 monkeys in their care - some in the “high care” unit in Westville but most at the Monkey Helpline Primate Rehabilitation & Sanctuary Centre situated on the Mayibuye Community Game Reserve near Camperdown. Whenever possible, recovered monkeys are released back into their troop, but if this is not possible then they are bonded into rehabilitation troops for release back into the wild, or else given lifetime care in the sanctuary component of the Centre.
All this takes MONEY! Vets have to be consulted for the seriously injured monkeys, and then there is the food and the petrol!! Monkey Helpline does not charge for any of its services so relies purely on donations from the public. For more information about Vervet Monkeys and what you need to know about them, or how to DONATE towards the cost of the work carried out by Monkey Helpline, visit our website, www.monkeyhelpline.co.za and follow “DONATE” buttons, or click directly through to all donation options via www.monkeyhelpline.co.za/donate-here.
See the Monkey Helpline advert on Page 10 for their contact details.