As a Shamwari guest, you would have undoubtedly seen a few vervet monkeys during your stay. Whether it be out on game drive; where they play in trees and sit on treetops or at the lodge, foraging in the surrounding vegetation.

Vervet monkeys at Shamwari

Although there are several sub-species of vervets, they are all generally medium-sized and are silvery-grey in colour. Their face, ears, hands, feet and tip of their tails are black. The males are slightly larger than the females and are easily identifiable by their turquoise-blue scrotum.

These mammals inhabit large parts of sub-Saharan Africa and prefer riverine and woodland habitats bordering savannas. Vervets are heavily dependant on a permanent water source as they need to drink water daily, and large trees for food and cover. They are prolific climbers and jumpers and spend most of their time in trees.

Vervet monkey

A vervet monkey photographed by Ranger James Moodie

Their diet and social structures

As omnivores, they have a wealth of fruit, leaves, flowers, bulbs, shoots, seeds and grass are plentiful! They prefer fruit and flowers however their diet is supplemented with insects, lizards, rodents and even bird eggs. Vervet monkeys have colour vision, allowing them to distinguish between green and ripe fruit.  Fascinatingly, they have cheek pouches for storing food.

Vervets exist in social groups of up to 50 individuals, called troops. These large groups are beneficial as they can defend themselves against predators and rival groups more effectively in large numbers. Troops consist of one dominant male and a few submissive males to multiple females and their immature offspring. However, the lowest ranking male is still more dominant than the highest-ranking female.  The hierarchy controls feeding, mating, fighting, friendships, grooming and even survival.

Communication is integral in troops. There is an order of dominance that is maintained by threat and aggression, the use of facial expressions and body language is used to communicate these threats and aggressive behaviour. Monkeys vocalise using various alarm calls, barks and cries when there is imminent danger, springing the troop into action and making them effective at avoiding predators. On the other hand, these primates spend several hours a day grooming by removing parasites, dirt or other material from one another’s fur. This act strengthens the bond between troop members.

Ververt monkeys grooming

Vervet monkeys grooming photographed by Ranger James Moodie

Taking care of their young

Vervet monkeys are seasonal breeders. After a gestation period of about 140 days, offspring are born after the rainy season when food is plentiful. Babies are born with dark fur and pink faces. They appear very different from the adults and are well looked after by individuals. At just four months old, their colouring develops to resemble that of their parents. Infants spend the first few weeks of their life clinging to their mother’s stomach being nursed. Once they are a bit older, they start to venture away from mom to play and will attempt to eat solid food.

Vervets and humans

These primates play an important role in our ecosystem. They unknowingly disperse seeds. Once seeds are ingested, they stay intact and are passed through the monkey’s digestive system and then excreted in a new location.

There are several threats to these common creatures. Predators include leopards, raptors and snakes. Humans hunt vervets for their meat. As their habitat has been reduced due to urbanisation, they have become a nuisance in some areas, raiding bins and homes for food.