For the past few weeks, my beloved Sue and I have been watching a pair of Bulbuls nesting in a Royal Palm outside our bedroom window. They built a rather elegant nest, delicate yet sturdy enough to withstand the vagaries of the weather and we marveled at how quickly the chicks arrived. The parents worked hard to keep the hungry brood fed and we worried about them on those tempestuous nights when the wind howled and the world trembled. But it wasn’t the wind that we should have been concerned about.
Shortly before the chicks were due to leave the nest, there was a commotion on the deck below the tree and we feared the worst. Our German Shepherds were on high alert and venting their outrage at what was unfolding, but they were powerless to prevent the carnage above them. A juvenile vervet monkey was tearing the chicks apart and dropping them lifeless and bloody onto the floor below. Sue and I were speechless at the wanton destruction and the offending monkey seemed to take great delight in tearing the nest apart while the distraught parents screeched their distress.
Just a few weeks earlier I had received a communication from a reader, a retired game ranger and active birder, who had expressed deep concern over the disappearance of birds from gardens in Umhlanga and the Hawaan Forest. His contention is that in the absence of natural predators, monkey populations have burgeoned, wreaking havoc on the breeding patterns of birdlife in their ever increasing territories.
There are apparently no easy solutions. It’s a problem that we have created. Nature is out of balance and we have the uncomfortable responsibility of trying to manage these things. I have often wondered how monkey populations are controlled in the absence of predators.
Steve Smit and Carol Booth run an Animal Rights Africa project called Monkey Helpline that offers another perspective. Steve was previously an intelligence agent for national security and later an estate agent. Carol was a teacher. Both have quit their day jobs and now work to address the plight of monkeys in our region.
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. People 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.”
Despite the perceptions people have of monkeys invading our gardens, we in fact have invaded their territory.
So, what’s the solution? Smit lambastes those responsible for the torment that monkeys face, from homeowners to conservation authorities, farmers and even bird lovers and school children with pellet guns. They are in the minority, but their impact on monkeys is enormous.
If you want more information on how to deal with problem monkeys in a humane and effective manner visit www.animalrightsafrica.org and look up Monkey Helpline under “projects”.
The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.― Mahatma Gandhi