June 05, 2008


Update on the DPG monkeys:
Just as I was starting to wonder if the babies here would ever get some adult or sub-adult influence, three monkeys were brought in from close by.
All three are ex-pets who lived together.
Peta is a 3 !/2 yr old female, Monki is a 2 ½ yr old female and Jack is a one and a ½ yr old male. The integration is going well as the babies are learning a few more manners and are accepting the new hierarchy that is being worked out with the newcomers.

Up until now, the babies - and myself as surrogate mother - would spend at least four hours a day free roaming outside. This was contrasted by them being brought indoors at night at first and then being taken into the enclosure at night for their protection when they got a bit older.

Using my human attempt at imitating a monkey warning whenever a predator approached, I showed my response to potential enemies, whether it was a strange dog on the property, a raptor flying above or the wild baboons visiting. There is apparently a difference in opinion - amongst local monkey watchers - regarding the extent to which vervets rely on instinct, how much they rely on learned behaviour and whether they rely purely on instinct.
I can only speak for myself (and the four years I've been watching vervets) when I say that my observations tend to point to the fact that vervets certainly rely on learned behaviour - while they do have a certain amount of instinct too - and this therefore is an important part of forming a troop (with ex-human backgrounds) for rehabilitation back into the wild. Without a wild monkey troop in this area and no sub-adult or adults in the group, the only option was to act as surrogate mother until the situation could be rectified.
If Vervets and Baboons did not rely so much on imitation and observation to learn, they would not be the adaptable - and consequently successful - species they are.
As their surrogate mother, I therefore felt it necessary to illustrate certain behaviours that are necessary for survival - behaviours that in the wild would have been learnt by monkeys in their group. I figured that any instinctual knowlede would hopefully be brought to the fore more quickly this way and what was necessary to learn by imitation, would likely be observed by the monkeys too. It appears that at certain development ages instinctual knowledge falls into place.

Primates in captivity may form certain different behaviours to those in the wild. This can be misleading with regard to understanding behaviour if your only point of reference is primates in captivity. So I have tried as far as possible to observe wild baboon and monkey troops to gain a holistic view of rehabilitation. The research available on these species is invaluable when combined with direct observation of primates in the wild.

Personally, I think with all the changing social dynamics - the working out of relationships, a captive situation with no break can cause stress that if possible is better to try to prevent to some extent. (Unfortunately one does not always have this choice, depending on the circumstances.) This was my main reason for ensuring the babies have had as much free roaming in the wild as I could give them.

However, in spite of the fact that we live on 17 hectares of indigenous land, we are surrounded by farmers; the Hunting Proclamation applies in the Western Cape as an enormous obstacle to freedom for our primates. (See Primates Status blog for more info on legislation). Another obstacle are the countless electricity pylons in this area that have been placed next to Afromontane forest where trees are over 20 metres tall - these are forests our monkeys utilise, coming into close contact with pylons.
As the babies "mother" who they clearly rely on still, I monitored their movements, their response to predators and observed the vegetation they chose to eat. At seven months they still show their reliance on me as protector - a role I hope the others will take on as time passes and bonds are formed. Ideally I would have preferred to introduce a surrogate older female vervet to them much earlier on, but didn't have this choice. So, Peta's introduction has been a most welcome event.
The babies here certainly seem well adjusted. Yesterday when a raptor flew over, DiddyKong (who has been number one in the baby group) warned the others but only the babies fled to the trees with the three newcomers showing no response to the raptor. This is merely one aspect I intend to observe as time passes.
How the three newcomers impact on the changing dynamics is something I am observing to make the adjustment as gradual and gentle as possible After all, in the wild the weaning of babies is a gradual process, not an instant shock to the youngster, and even then it is traumatic. Will keep you updated….