GET IT article 2016
“The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing.” This is a quote from Albert Einstein, and Vryheid couple Bruce and Sandi Cronk decided they would no longer stand by and do nothing. They dedicated their lives to caring for vervet monkeys (blou aapies). Some people may see them as a pest, but these two dedicated animal lovers know how rewarding it is to nurse baby vervets, bottle feed them and watch them grow into adulthood in a safe and loving environment. “Bruce and Sandi started up a non-profit organisation called WATCH (Wild Animal Trauma Centre and Haven). Although they specialise in vervet monkeys, they take in all wild animals in need and those they cannot cater or care for are transferred to another appropriate rehabilitation centre or sanctuary.
The love for vervet monkeys started when Sandi had a pet vervet she was looking after. At that time Sandi took him to a rehabilitation centre in Durban and when it came time to release the delightful fellow and his troop Sandi and Bruce were asked to assist with the post-release feeding. From there on their involvement with vervet rescue and care steadily grew and since then Sandi has been crazy about monkeys and her love for these primates quickly passed on to her husband.
“It’s important to remember we are a haven for injured, orphaned or abandoned monkeys. We don’t encourage anyone to
keep a monkey of any kind as a pet.” Both Bruce and Sandi feel very strongly about this issue. While Bruce also feels strongly about keeping monkeys as pets, it’s Sandi who brings the point across in a very stern manner. “It took thousands of years for humans to domesticate cats and dogs. Monkeys are wild animals, no matter how cute you think they are. Many people think it’s a nice pet for the children. This is a mistake! Their first defence is always biting, so when your five-year-old walks around with an apple and the monkey tries to take it from the child if it’s met with any resistance from the child, the monkey will bite. Then people become angry at the monkey. Its instinct - you should be angry at yourself for bringing a wild animal into your house. It’s not the monkey’s fault, it’s yours.”
“Furthermore, vervets are extremely social animals and live in family groups called troops. Within a troop is a strict hierarchy and every member of a troop knows its position. Monkeys are not created to be alone, they are very social creatures and you can’t keep them locked up in a cage, it’s just inhumane.” To keep vervets isolated from a family troop is a great injustice to the monkey and Sandi and Bruce urge people who find injured or abandoned vervets to take them to a centre that cares for vervets so that they can be introduced to a family and find their place in a troop. “People don’t realise how much work it takes to keep these inquisitive primates happy and entertained.
Most farmers, according to Bruce, don’t enjoy having monkeys anywhere near their crops. “They complain that the monkeys will take a bite out of the corn or fruit and throw it on the ground. Remember, nature is interlinked. Monkeys climb trees; what they can reach other animals can’t. So that banana or pawpaw they take two bites of and throw down becomes food for other animals that forage for food off the ground.” We have a strong farming community and they often see vervet monkeys as pests destroying their crops, or in extreme cases their homes or lodges. This causes conflict between man and primate and we have heard of instances where entire troops are culled and in many of these cases babies are left orphaned. “While we understand the plight and complaints of the farmer we simply cannot ignore the needs of an orphaned or injured monkey.” In Durban and along the coast the majority of rescues are due to car collisions, but dog attacks, pellet gun shootings and poisoning also contribute to vervets entering the rehabilitation process. This is where we come in; when necessary we seek veterinary or medical help for them and the ultimate option after a short recovery will be to release them back into their home range where they were injured as soon as possible. However this is usually not the case and the afflicted vervet then lands up as a non-permanent resident at our centre until such time that the monkey and his troop are ready to be return to the wild.”
When we get in orphaned babies they are hand raised and get tactile care around the clock. Once the babies reach approximately three months of age, they are introduced to their troop in large enclosures and slowly the human bond is broken. At first they do cry for their human ‘parents,’ but after a while they connect with the other monkeys and they become completely wild. The babies are usually very eagerly ‘adopted’ by the older members of a troop and it is important that they learn monkey behaviour and not stay attached to us. We do allow breeding in troops that are going to be released – in fact we welcome it as this means the continuation of the blood line with in a troop. We have no contact with these babies at all as the mothers raise and care for their own young. We only take care of babies when they are brought to us as orphans.
WATCH does have an enclosure for ‘non-releasable’. Three of these monkeys arrived at our centre extremely imprinted which means they had close human contact for an extended time and upon arrival were past the point that the imprint could be reversed. They then lose their natural fear of humans and this puts them at risk of being killed quite quickly in the wild. It also means that they do not understand ‘monkey behaviour’ and troop hierarchy and this causes them to be the misfit of the troop. That is why we put the babies in the enclosures with other monkeys once they can feed themselves and no longer need a bottle.
Returning them to the wild is what the Cronk’s do. The rehabilitation process can take up to a couple of years because a balanced troop of assorted age groups with males and females per age group as well as at least two or three adult must be attained. The process takes less time if adults or sub-adults rescued from the wild are added to a troop, but this is not always the case. Introducing older females into a troop is the most difficult addition or introduction we have to do since in a natural environment females do not leave the troop. Another challenge we face is finding a suitable release area. Certain criteria have to be met, for example availability of natural food supply, fresh water and roosting sites. We also have to take into account the presence of predators and the proximity of human habitation. Not all land owners of suitable sites are prepared to have monkeys released on their property and sometimes even if we find a willing landowner they are not comfortable with us spending an extended time post release at the site. When troops get released, we do follow-ups, at first regularly providing supplement feeding and to see how they’re adjusting and if they are coping. We gradually cut back on the supplement feeding as they get used to their new environment and finding their own food then it becomes less frequent. As time goes by, you would think they would forget us completely, but they don’t, they still recognise us. They won’t come to us, but they do recognise us
WATCH is associated with numerous universities around the world, and we have hosted researchers, honours, masters and post-doctorate students. All the research that is conducted at WATCH is non-invasive and the studies don’t harm our vervets in any way.” “We recently had a representative from The University of St. Andrews, Scotland doing behavioural studies and this month we will have a researcher here conducting a study on the bacterial content of the faeces of wild monkeys versus monkeys in captivity. We even once had a photography student from England spending time here as she was doing her final project on primate hands and feet. We have had fantastic experiences and learnt from these researchers and students and we hope to continue having them in the future.”
WATCH have a volunteer programme where people from all over the world come to spend a few weeks or even up to six months with the monkeys. “We’ve made friends across the globe and it also really helps us to maintain this project. Being non-profit, Bruce’s full time (non-paying) job is looking after the monkeys and making sure the centre, admissions and releases run smoothly while I have a full-time job to keep all of us afloat. The volunteers help by paying to be here and making donations while also working and by just spending time with the babies that rely on full time care. Currently, we have Jack Mccowie here from Newcastle, England. All of our volunteers just love it here, although the heat can get a bit challenging for them at times.”
WATCH is one of only three centres in KZN licenced to keep vervets in captivity. Anyone else who is keeping a vervet or vervets in captivity is breaking the law. “We are registered with and permitted by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife and are also accountable to the NSPCA. Both these organisations keep a close eye on what we do and make sure we stick to the proper standards and we are subject to impromptu inspections at any time.” We also have to attain release permits from EKZNW before any releases can be done,
We has been met with some resistance from people who want to know: how can we release them after spending so much time with them and investing so much both financially and emotionally in them. Well, the answer is simple: how can you not? You know what they need to have a full happy life, and it’s not you, they need their troop and they need to be free.” Some people are dog people and some are cat people, but Sandi sees herself as a monkey person. “We want to thank all the businesses, organisations and private individuals who support us and help us to keep doing what we’re doing. For us, it is a blessing and a great privilege to be part of these beautiful animals’ lives.”