Monkeys under fire

2010-04-16 00:00

FORGET gorillas in the mist. We have vervets in our midst. Persecuted, harassed­ and off-handedly dismissed, vervet monkeys are the most misunderstood and mistreated animals in KwaZulu-Natal, say Steve Smit and Carol Booth of the Animal Rights Africa project, Monkey Helpline. They recently told STEPHANIE SAVILLE why vervets urgently need our help.


MONKEYS are having a very hard time of it. It’s bad enough, from their perspective, that humans have moved into their areas, but as we introduce more security measures and are increasingly intolerant of the presence of their troops, they suffer increasingly cruel human-related injuries and deaths.

Steve Smit was previously an intelligence agent for national security and later an estate agent. Carol Booth was a teacher­. Both have quit their day jobs and now work to help the much-maligned monkeys of Durban and Pietermaritzburg­ and surrounds, and anywhere else in KwaZulu-Natal or South Africa where they are needed.

Smit says that the Monkey Helpline, which they run, receives far too many calls from people who have found monkeys that have been shot with pellet guns and says that if out of every 100 homes in a suburb, only one is using a pellet gun on monkeys and other animals, this has a devastating effect.

He cited a recent case in Chase Valley, where a mother monkey had been shot with a shower of pellets. One entered and exited her body and then struck her five-week-old baby (which was left clinging to her dead body for days before they rescued it) in the face.

“The mother died an agonising death. We find some monkeys with 10 to 15 pellets in their bodies.”

Monkeys can linger in agony for up to two weeks before dying when they are shot with pellets. Over 80% of monkeys rescued by the Monkey Helpline for whatever reason, are found to have pellets from airguns lodged in their bodies. Pregnant mothers with dead babies  in  their  wombs  have  been  encountered,  with X-rays showing they had been shot with pellet guns and the unborn baby actually killed by the pellets.

This, despite the fact that the Firearm Control Act makes it a criminal offence to discharge an airgun in a built-up area or public place, without good reason to do so. In terms of the Animal Protection Act and the provincial conservation ordinance, it is an offence to shoot and injure monkeys, and Smit encourages people to report those who do to the authorities or to him.

Booth and Smit have nursed and rehabilitated vervets, taking them into their home to do so, but they have also had monkeys­ die in their arms. Their scorn of people who shoot pellet guns at monkeys or poison them is understandable when they relay stories of the suffering of these creatures that they have encountered.

Power lines, electric fences, razor wire, jagged glass-topped walls and palisade fences also bring massive risks for the vervet population.

“Burns from power lines and transformers are all too frequent. They get a massive shock, then fall down many metres­ and if they survive they die a lingering death as the shocked limb, or limbs, decay and toxic infection sets in. Many survive the electrocution but lose one or even two limbs.

Smit says that roads are also a major threat to monkeys, with fatal injuries from cars an all too common occurrence. They are forced to cross busy roads countless times each day as they move around their territory.

“Dogs cause huge problems for them too. Monkeys really are suffering and need our help.”

Smit recoils in horror when speaking of the effects of poison on monkeys. He cites the recent case in Hilton where a woman allegedly laced a banana with Temic poison to kill monkeys, but it was instead eaten by a man who later died.

“That person died because of her intolerance. It is cruel and vindictive. She must be firmly dealt with by the law, so much so that it sends a clear message to any person contemplating the use of poison.”

Booth says that it is often people who are wealthy enough to implement other measures or who should be educated enough to realise that poison has a ripple effect, who lay out poison for monkeys.

“If a monkey eats poison and dies, its body may be eaten by a Crowned Eagle, which will also then die. Or a pet dog, perhaps belonging to the person who set out the poison, may come along and chew on the monkey’s carcass and die.”

There are massive misconceptions about monkeys, which lead to irritation and anger and because of this only one out of four monkeys that are born actually make it to adulthood, says Booth.

“People say that monkeys are breeding out of control and that their populations are increasing because their so-called natural predators have been eradicated. It’s simply not true. Humans have introduced power lines, vehicles, pellet guns and firearms, vicious dogs, poison, snares, traps and razor wire that are nonselective and far more lethal. We rescue an average of three monkeys every two days.

“No population can sustain such high losses. Urban monkeys could be extinct by the time our children reach adulthood. Almost all the troops that we monitor are slowly decreasing in size from one year to the next.”

Smit says that despite the perceptions people­ have of monkeys invading our gardens­, we in fact have invaded their territory­.

Smit says that the help-line often gets calls from people wanting them to relocate troops elsewhere. “We can’t just dump them somewhere else. Troops are territorial and it’s very difficult to find a suitable place where there is not another troop already living.”

Smit lambastes those responsible for the torment monkeys face, from homeowners to conservation authorities, farmers and even bird lovers and school children with pellet guns.

“They are the minority of society, but their impact on monkeys is enormous.”


Smit and Booth are looking for people to assist the Monkey Helpline in Pietermaritzburg, either by being on hand to give first aid to monkeys in distress, or by simply monitoring troops which pass through gardens on record sheets provided by Monkey Helpline for research purposes. If you can help in any way, please call Smit on 082 659 4711 or Booth on 082 411 5444 or the Monkey helpline office on 031-266 3376.

Read up more about the educational talks and rescue work Smit and Booth do at and see more tips for humanely chasing them away there too.



How to deal with an “unwanted” Vervet presence:

•Use your hosepipe to squirt them. They hate this and will run away.

•A water pistol aimed and squirted at the monkeys inside or close to your house is very effective.

•Vervets are easily shooed away simply by walking towards them and waving a small towel, dishcloth or other similar item. Don’t be intimidated if they stand their ground and threaten you. They will always turn tail and flee as you get closer!

•Monkeys are naturally wary of snakes, so realistic rubber snakes placed around your home or garden can discourage them, Use a thin twine to give the snake life-like motion when the monkeys are near it.

•Vervets fear men more than they do women, so wherever possible the Vervets should be chased away by men.

•Vervets have very keen senses of taste and smell. They can be discouraged from eating fruit, flowers and vegetables by spraying or brushing these with a liquid containing quinine, chilli, insect or pet repellant or any other distasteful but non-lethal substance that can be washed off. Dry curry, chilli or tobacco powder also works well in flower beds.

•Vervets are easily chased out of trees by installing a burglar alarm siren in the tree and activating it when the Vervets are there.

•Use nylon bird or hail netting over and around vegetable, strawberry and other produce gardens to keep Vervets out.

For more information visit and look up Monkey Helpline under “projects”.

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