19 02 2014 Urban Monkey Vervet
Image: Action For Our Planet (AFOP), Flickr

In our Monkey Wars series, humans and urban monkeys clash. And as with many conflicts that flare up wherever human habitats swallow up wild ones, this one hinges on some deep-seated misconceptions about vervet monkeys – and the consequences for these animals have been devastating. So, let the myth-busting commence...

MYTH 1: Populations are out of control

Vervet monkeys are a widespread species, meaning they can be found throughout southern Africa. However, their numbers are certainly not 'multiplying out of control'. While more research is needed to determine exactly what is happening to their population numbers, what we do know is that the animals are facing a number of human-related threats. In Durban (the city where District Monkey was filmed) monkeys are often harmed due to habitat destruction, collisions with vehicles, shooting, dog attacks, deliberate poisoning and even trapping for traditional medicine. 

MYTH 2: They're dirty and they spread rabies

Monkeys are very meticulous groomers – they are not dirty and do not carry fleas or ticks. And as far as can be established, a case of a vervet monkey infecting a human with rabies has never been confirmed or even reported. Monkeys, like all warm-blooded animals, are capable of contracting the rabies virus if bitten by an infected animal (just like you or your dog!), but it is certainly not true that the virus is rampant among wild vervet populations! According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the vast majority of worldwide rabies cases in humans are the result of domestic dog bites (in the US, bats are the main source). 

MYTH 3: They attack pets and children

When cornered by a snarling dog, a vervet monkey (especially a female with her young) will naturally react with aggression in order to defend itself. But, like most animals, monkeys prefer ‘flight’ over ‘fight’. Stories about monkeys attacking pets (or even children!) without any provocation are simply untrue.

MYTH 4: Relocating them away from urban areas is easy

It would be great if the solution to the ‘humans VS urban monkeys’ conflict were as simple as packing them up and moving them to an idyllic natural paradise. But things are not that straightforward. Monkeys have strong territorial ties and moving a troop is a complex and risky undertaking that can seriously disrupt social dynamics. While some males will naturally leave their troop to find mates, related females remain together for life – so moving one usually means moving all.

MYTH 5: It’s impossible for wild animals to coexist with humans in the city

As humans continue to encroach on natural animal habitats, encounters with wildlife in the city are bound to become more commonplace. Cities can offer plentiful sources of food, water and shelter (and some species actually flourish in the concrete jungle). Coexisting with these animals is not a choice – it just takes motivation, a lot of effort and some clever management strategies.

Watch our latest episode of Monkey Wars here:

Top header image: Tambako the Jaguar, Flickr