The Vervet monkey is a member of the guenon family of monkeys, one of the most common and widely spread in Africa. Characteristics of guenons are their long arms, legs, and tails; small, round heads; and short faces with whiskers. Specific characteristics of the Vervet are its black face, black feet, and black tipped tail; mottled grey fur with white fur on its belly; pale blue skin, and bright blue scrota on the males.
Vervets are found throughout Africa, from Senegal to Sudan and all the way to the southern tip of Africa. They are adapted to practically all wooded habitats except for rain forest and their preferred habitat is Acacia tree woodland along lakes, rivers and streams. Vervets primarily dwell on the ground but take shelter from predators and sleep in trees. They are relatively slow runners and therefore cannot afford to travel far from the safety of trees.
Vervet troops can number up to 120 but due to habitat loss and persecution now rarely exceed 30.
Vervets organize themselves into complex, but very stable family groups commonly referred to as “troops.” Troops are organized around an alpha male who acts as leader of the group, several smaller groups of closely related adult females and their offspring, and lesser adult males. Males leave their home troop at adolescence and transfer from troop to troop throughout their life. Within the troops there is a clear order of dominance and rank maintained by threats and skill.
Vervets mate throughout the year, but the majority of babies are born in November and December, just before the rainy season. Females take great interest in their young and care for them thoroughly and delicately. Care for the young is often shared with other juvenile females.
Vervets communicate with each other by staring and by a variety of calls. Staring communicates a show of dominance or threat. Their calls consist of a variety of creaking cries and staccato barks.
Public Perception and Vervet Myths
No.1 – Vervet Monkey Populations Are Healthy
Despite their perceived commonality, vervet numbers are plummeting in South Africa . Currently there is no definitive knowledge on how many monkeys are left in the wild – what is known is that their numbers have dropped significantly in the last 100 years due to habitat loss and sadly indiscriminate killing by humans. The VMF will soon undertake a census of vervet populations in the Limpopo Province, South Africa, before continuing to neighboring provinces in order to.
Vervets are now more commonly restricted to wherever there is water or protected habitat. Sadly many now live attached to urban presence where food and water can now only be found due to urban development and continued habitat loss. Family sizes, historically upwards of 120 vervets (according to censuses completed in 1890 and 1940), are now approximately 20 – 30 individuals due to continued pressure on available habitat and continued persecution.
No.2 – Vervets Cause Damage To Commercial Crops
South African fruit farmers have unfortunately been detrimental to the health of the vervet population. There is a long-standing misconception that vervets destroy crops, and therefore farmers have killed more vervets than any other group of people. After investigating well over 50 reports of crop damage by vervets in the Limpopo Province, the VMF has determined that vervet behavior does not match crop destruction reported by South African fruit farmers.
Avocado, Mango and Banana are picked and sold when they are grass green, before they ripen. Vervet monkeys rarely eat crops that have not ripened. Vervets eat ripened fruit that has fallen from the tree and is already useless to the farmer. If these crops have been eaten while they are still on the tree, it is because the fruit has ripened while still on the tree, or because the fruit is infected with insects. In this case the monkeys pick the fruit off the tree to eat the insects inside. Vervets entering farm land in search for food therefore present no real threat to the farmer as commercially viable fruit is not eaten by the monkey.
In fact, monkeys will seek out insects that damage fruit, in turn protecting the farmer from insect infestation. By eating all stages of insects from eggs to adults, insect populations are naturally controlled without the use of pesticides – The real misconception here is that once a vervet is seen on site he/she should be shot as he/she is about to damage crops. This reason alone has proved detrimental to vervet populations.