Vervet Monkeys have a hard situation in South Africa. The species is seen as a pest, and because of human encroachment on their habitat, the vervet’s environment is in serious decline.
David Du Toit – the founder of the Vervet Monkey Foundation (VMF) – spoke to the Handshake volunteers about the sanctuary and the plight of the vervet monkey. We visited the sanctuary, and tried to establish how best we can support the foundation.
The VMF in Tzaneen has been running since the early 90’s. The sanctuary was founded out of necessity; after David found an orphan vervet monkey and reported it to local authorities – he was told to kill the baby as there was nowhere for it to go. David took in the orphan and soon one monkey turned to ten, and the sanctuary was born. Since then volunteers have been this non-profit foundation’s only work force, and are responsible for creating the safe environment that currently houses around 500 sick, orphaned and homeless vervets.
The vervet is least popular with the farming community of South Africa. David explains, “if you put nice things in the way of children, they will take it. You could not shoot a child for taking an ice cream – yet the farmers shoot vervets for taking fruit that has been planted in the vervet’s habitat.” Unfortunately, this attitude is wide spread, and affects all wild life throughout South Africa.
“A lot of changes have to be done – some enclosures have been around a long time. Expansion is not exactly on the cards – but it’s hard to say. You don’t know what’s around the corner. For the moment we have had to concentrate a lot of effort on the sanctuary itself. Because of the influx of so many monkeys over the last couple of years it’s become difficult with the shortage of funds and volunteers. Once that’s sorted – we can concentrate on planning releases, community outreach and restarting our monkey patrol.”
Having recently constructed an education centre, the foundation is committed to affecting change. “The plan with the education centre is to eventually have school visits. Not for them to look around the entire centre, but certain sections to give them an understanding of the vervets and why we’re here to protect them… why we’re here to protect and conserve all wildlife.” Unfortunately, due to illness and massive demands from new arrivals, progress has temporarily slowed.
The VMF’s self-proclaimed end goal is to put an end to the necessity for the sanctuary. But like many sanctuaries across Africa, The VMF is in a tough situation. The passion, initiative and dedication is present in full force, but with little support from local authorities and limited resources, progress is difficult. The sanctuary is unrecognizable since the Handshake’s last visit 12 months ago – and with new builds and bigger enclosures, the foundation is certainly undergoing growth. The only problem is that growth is draining on resources, and with a tight budget, any further development or expansion is limited. The foundation’s main priority is the monkeys that they care for, and unless this care can be secured, any further expansion in to community outreach and education must take second place.
The Vervet Monkey Foundation are always looking to take on new volunteers, and have a wide base of opportunity to satisfy most that are interested. From construction and maintenance to care and research, the foundation is a great place to support. On the edge of major development, working with them is an opportunity to affect real change for misunderstood and threatened primates that, if nothing is done to protect them, will end up in serious danger of extinction like so many other species. Contact them here.