In our new District Monkey series, humans and urban monkeys clash – often with devastating consequences for the animals. Sadly, the conflicts are often based on some deep-seated misconceptions about vervet monkeys ... Which means it's time to bust some myths!
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. In Durban (the city where District Monkey was filmed) populations have actually decreased significantly for a number of reasons, including habitat destruction, collisions with vehicles, shooting, dog attacks, deliberate poisoning, trapping for traditional medicine and even biomedical research.
MYTH 2: They are dirty and carry rabies
As far as can be established, a case of rabies in a wild vervet monkey 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! And monkeys are very meticulous groomers – so they're not dirty and do not carry fleas or ticks.
MYTH 3: They attack pets and children
When cornered by a snarling dog, a vervet monkey (especially a female with 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.