Monkeys in estates: Live and let live, say experts

Gated communities are proliferating throughout South Africa as people seek better security, often combined with country living, but what impact are these developments having on wildlife endemic to the area?

This is the question on the lips of organisations concerned for the welfare of wildlife, which is increasingly under threat, with certain creatures being completely wiped out, as gated communities continue to multiply.

It’s a topic close to the heart of Cora Bailey, founder of Community Led Animal Welfare (CLAW).  Based in Florida on Johannesburg’s west Rand, CLAW has become known as the go-to organisation for capturing wildlife in suburban and township areas throughout Johannesburg, with baboons and, in particular, monkeys being top of the list of rescues.

Urbanisation inevitably brings with it a threat to wildlife, but the multiplying of gated communities has added a new dimension to the challenge, says Bailey.   She explains that, like baboons, male monkeys are nomadic and, on reaching adulthood, they leave their family group in search of another troop.

“Monkeys have long travelled specific routes along waterways and other green areas to find other troops,” she says.  “Except that now, their way is blocked by high walls and electric fences.  Being forced to find new avenues around these barriers inevitably brings them into contact with humans and traffic, leading to their being injured or killed by people or cars.

“When they end up inside a gated community where no other monkeys live, the result is often panic among residents, who don’t understand that if they simply leave them alone, they will leave within a day or two because they are en route to find another troop,” she says.

“If it is spotted in an area a number of times it’s because something is stopping it, such as fences or dogs.  They should then call the nearest animal welfare organisation to get expert advice on how to trap and remove it.”

When monkeys live inside gated communities

Monkey Helpline, an NGO dedicated to rescuing and rehabilitating monkeys in Kwa-Zulu Natal, home to thousands of troops of Vervet monkeys, rescues three to 10 monkeys daily and more than 1 000 a year, according to the organisation’s co-founder, Steve Smit.

Many injuries and deaths are the result of animal cruelty, he says. Electrocution and poisoning are common, but more than 85% are shot with airguns.  Although most injuries and deaths occur on open roads and in towns, Monkey Helpline regularly receives callouts to gated communities, he says.

Smit explains that, while male monkeys migrate, females will remain in their natal group and families will remain in the area where they have lived for generations.  This means that if a new estate is built where monkeys live, they will automatically become co-inhabitants of the estate.

“Most people accept this and adapt their lives to the monkeys,” says Smit.

“Sadly, however, some residents tend to view them as unwanted ‘invaders’ that have no place in a so-called ‘secure’ estate,” says Smit.  “Monkeys’ tendency to take food that is left on counter-tops close to open windows gives rise to their being described as ‘naughty’ and ‘thieves’, whereas they are simply behaving naturally, as they would in the wild.  If you aren’t eating the fruit, and it’s available for the eating, then they will take it.”

Ignorance leads to fear

Fear is a major cause for humans coming into conflict with monkeys, according to Smit.  Beliefs such as monkeys are inherently dangerous and that they carry rabies, are simply not true, he says.

“Vervet monkeys do not carry rabies, and if people take the time to understand their behaviour, it is quite possible for monkeys to live alongside humans with no trauma to either.”

Smit offers the following general tips to discourage monkeys from invading personal space:

  • Keep fruit and other food concealed when Vervet monkeys are around.
  • Clear away uneaten food, including any pet food.
  • If you feed wild birds in your garden, aim to do so at random times. A routine will give Vervet monkeys an opportunity to get accustomed to available food.
  • If you leave your house unattended, make sure to keep doors and windows closed. Fit windows with mesh or insect-proof screens, which allow for ventilation in the home while keeping monkeys out.
  • If you are having a children’s party outside, ensure that adults are present to discourage monkeys from harassing children for their food.
  • Use a water jet gun (not a spray) to get them to move away.  A few well-aimed squirts will be enough to remove them from your kitchen.
  • Monkey ‘feeding stations’ can assist in reducing contact with monkeys.  Contact Monkey Helpline to ensure that this is done effectively.

Monkey Helpline can be contacted on 0826594711 or 824115444.  For more information, see

Plea for tolerance

Monkey Helpline’s website includes a plea for tolerance for monkeys:

For those people who are antagonistic to the presence of monkeys and the feeding of monkeys, please consider just how seriously urban, industrial and agricultural development has impacted on monkeys by destroying their natural habitat.  A troop of monkeys is bonded to its territory through a matrilineal line spanning many generations.  Female Vervets never leave the territory of their birth, which means that, with the exception of most of the mature adult males, the monkeys you see in the troop where you live descend from female monkeys who lived right there, hundreds of years ago.  Even though we have destroyed their habitat and their homes, they cannot leave.  When the houses, factories, schools, shops, churches, roads, etc were constructed on land cleared of the natural vegetation that was home to the monkeys, they had to learn to survive in a “monkey unfriendly” world, and because they have done this with such success they are demonised, harassed, persecuted and killed.  In order to survive they need to be able to find food, shelter and security.  They desperately need our understanding and tolerance!

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