Along with the Chacma Baboon, the Vervet Monkey must be South Africa’s best known indigenous primate. Male Vervets are considerable stronger built than the females, weighing in at an average of 6kg compared to females at 4kg. Including their tail, Vervet Monkeys are usually just over a meter long.
Vervet Monkeys inhabit coastal and mountain forests, woodland, bushveld, riverine thickets, and adjacent grasslands. They’ve adapted to suburban living in many of our towns and cities, and they’ll even forage in plantations and on beaches, provided there is sufficient natural vegetation nearby. Access to drinking water is a crucial habitat requirement for them. Vervet Monkeys follow an extremely wide diet, feeding on fruits and berries, seeds, pods, flowers, leaves, roots, bulbs, tree gum, grass, herbs, spiders and scorpions, snails, insects, eggs and small birds, other small vertebrates, and even marine organisms. Unfortunately they also quickly learn that humans are an easy source of food, either through deliberate feeding or irresponsible discarding of food waste, and can then become a dangerous nuisance.
A highly gregarious species, Vervet Monkeys live in troops numbering from 8 to 140 members (usually around 25) made up of a dominant male, several other males, females (who have their own pecking order) and their young. Troop members have strong bonds of friendship and alliances with others of similar status in the group. Vervets are diurnal, being most active in the morning and afternoon and resting in the midday heat. At night they sleep huddled in small groups in high trees or on inaccessible cliffs. They spend about an equal amount of time foraging in the trees and on the ground.
Female Vervet Monkeys give birth to a single baby – twins are very rare – at any time of the year, though most babies arrive in the spring or summer when food is more abundant, after a 7 month pregnancy. All troop members are very protective of the little ones. Females may live their entire lives in the troop they were born in, while males leave their maternal group at the age of about 4 years to join other troops, staying on average about 3 years with a troop before moving along to another again. Leopards, smaller wild cats, large raptors and pythons are the biggest predators of Vervet Monkeys, which can live to between 12 and 24 years old in the wild.
The Vervet Monkey occurs in a wide band from Somalia and Ethiopia in the north to South Africa, where they are found in all provinces and most of our conservation areas, though their occurrence in the arid west and open central parts of the country is restricted to major riverine arteries. They are regarded as a pest in farming communities and in suburbs, but being a widespread and abundant species the IUCN lists the Vervet Monkey as “Least Concern”.