Social and interactive, these lively primates are a familiar sight in the Kruger National Park. Due to the fact that they are diurnal, you’ll, more often than not, see them scurrying around the various campsites and lodges in the park, looking for something to eat.
While it’s NEVER a good idea to feed vervet monkeys and really important to keep your distance from them, it’s an exciting treat to be able to watch them and admire just how distinctive and versatile they are.
Vervet monkeys are easy enough to recognise - while their body colour can vary, their fur is greyish with white fur on their belly. Classified as medium-sized, they have a short face with whiskers, black feet and a long, black-tipped tail. It’s easy to tell male monkeys and females apart as males have bright blue scrota.
Vervet monkeys live in family groups called troops. According to the Vervet Monkey Foundation, a non-profit organisation based in the Limpopo province of South Africa, vervet troops once consisted of around 120 monkeys but due to habitat loss and persecution, you’ll usually only find groups of 30 monkeys.
On a Kruger National Park safari, it’s quite common to see a family of monkeys, either up in one of the park’s many indigenous trees or on the ground, and often with mothers nursing their young (which are dark in colour with pink faces) - a very special sighting.
In a troop, there’s an alpha male who leads the group. There are also more females and offspring than there are other males. This is due to the fact that male monkeys often leave their birth troop during adolescence. As with many other species in Kruger Park, including lions and zebras, there’s an order of dominance in a group with males.
As for their young, the gestation period for vervet monkeys is between 5 and 6 months and they tend to give birth to a single young at a time.
They are also seasonal breeders and while it’s not always the case, breeding tends to happen between April and June or in the dry season in South Africa, so that there is plenty of food available once the young are born, during the rainy season.
Another common sight when you come across vervet monkeys in Kruger Park is seeing them grooming one another. It’s a bonding exercise and aids in removing the debris and/or parasites found in their fur.
When it comes to understanding a vervet monkey’s behavioral traits, there are specific calls with which they communicate, including one to signal an alarm and another to show aggression or irritation. These various calls consist of chattering and even high-pitched or creaking cries.
Alarm calls are especially important as it signals to other monkeys that there’s a predator nearby. Though, it’s been said that different predators elicit different responses.
For example, leopards, martial eagles - a well-known threat to vervet monkeys, and snakes all evoke different alarm calls that are unique to that predator and alert other monkeys in the troop as to where and what to look out for. Other predators also include baboons, pythons and crocodiles.
Another way that vervet monkeys communicate with one another is through staring, which is either used to show dominance or as a threat.
There are many reasons that vervet monkeys are considered versatile, one being their ability to live in a variety of environments.
As mentioned, you’ll often find them in tall, dense trees - vervet monkeys move between these trees by leaping from one to the other.
They’re also found in open savannah areas and acacia woodland, as long as there is food and water available - though they don’t drink water as often as other animals - and coverage to be able to hide from predators. This is also why you won’t usually see them in open grassland areas (a tip for your next game drive or safari through the Kruger National Park).
You’re probably also wondering what vervet monkeys eat? Their diet consists of mostly vegetarian-type foods, including nuts, fruit, bark, seeds, berries, flowers (buds and shoots) and even grass. However, they are omnivorous, so you may also see them feeding on birds and their eggs, rodents, insects and lizards.
As mentioned before, vervet monkeys are spread throughout the park, though some of our favourite sightings have occurred on the route between Pretoriuskop and Skukuza Rest Camp. We’ve also often seen them at rest camps like Pretoriuskop.
It’s also not uncommon to come across a troop moving through the trees, so be sure to drive slower through these areas.
If you do happen to spot vervet monkeys, always keep your windows rolled up and don’t open your door or leave your car. They can be jittery but they’re also curious animals and may feel brave enough to approach you.
Another piece of advice - don’t be fooled by their sweet and innocent faces. It’s strictly prohibited to feed all animals, including vervet monkeys, in the Kruger National Park, for your safety and theirs.
This is also why it’s important to keep containers and bags closed and/or securely packed away at picnic areas, as monkeys will happily relieve you of your food and belongings.
Whether it be on a game drive or at your campsite or lodge, you’re sure to come across them on your next safari.
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