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Vervet monkey
FACT FILE:
Swahili Name: Tumbili
Scientific Name: Cercopithecus aethiops
Size: 18 to 26 inches
Weight: 7 to 17 pounds
Lifespan: 24 years in captivity
Habitat: Woodland, savanna and high bush
Diet: Omnivorous
Gestation: 5 1/2 months
Predators: Leopard, eagle


This small, black-faced monkey is common in East Africa as it adapts easily to many environments and is widely distributed.

Physical Characteristics
The different types of vervets vary in color, but generally the body is a greenish-olive or silvery-gray. The face, ears, hands, feet and tip of the tail are black, but a conspicuous white band on the forehead blends in with the short whiskers. The males are slightly larger than the females and easily recognized by their turquoise blue scrota.

The vervet is classified as a medium-sized to large monkey-males weigh up to 17 pounds. Its tail is usually held up, with the tip curving downward. Its arms and legs are approximately the same length.

Habitat
In East Africa these monkeys can live in mountain areas up to about 13,000 feet, but they do not inhabit rain forests or deserts. Their preferred habitat is acacia woodland along streams, rivers and lakes. They are diurnal, sleeping and eating in trees from which they seldom venture.

Behavior
Complex but stable social groups (also called troops) of 10 to 50 individuals mainly consist of adult females and their immature offspring. Males move freely in and out of these groups. Within the troop, each adult female is the center of a small family network. Females who have reached puberty generally stay in the troop.

Grooming is important in a monkey's life. Vervets (as well as most other primates) spend several hours a day removing parasites, dirt or other material from one another's fur. In the primates' hierarchy, dominant individuals get the most grooming. The hierarchical system also controls feeding, mating, fighting, friendships and even survival.

Diet
Leaves and young shoots are most important in the diet, but bark, flowers, fruit, bulbs, roots and grass seeds are also consumed. The mainly vegetarian diet is supplemented with insects, grubs, eggs, baby birds and sometimes rodents and hares. Vervets rarely drink water.

Caring for the Young
Infant vervet monkeys are suckled for about 4 months. When they become adept at feeding themselves solid food, the weaning process begins, although it may not be completed until the vervet is 1 year old.

Close social bonds with female relatives begin to develop in infancy, relationships thought to endure throughout life. Infants are of great interest to the other monkeys in the troop; subadult females do everything possible to be allowed to groom or hold a new infant.

After a birth, the mother licks the infant clean, bites off the umbilical cord and eats the afterbirth. The newborn has black hair and a pink face; it will be 3 or 4 months before it acquires adult coloration.

The infant spends the first week of life clinging to its mother's stomach. After about the third week, it begins to move about by itself and attempts to play with other young monkeys. Vervet mothers are proprietary in the treatment of their babies, and some will not allow young or even other adult females to hold or carry them. Others gladly leave their infants in charge of any interested female. Researchers report that usually a female's close family members will have the most unrestricted access to the babies. As the infants grow, they play not only with monkeys but with other young animals. Young vervets chase one another, wrestle, tumble and play "king-of-the-castle," taking turns pushing each other off a high perch.

Predators
Vervets rarely venture further than about 500 yards from the trees, since they are vulnerable to a variety of predators, including leopards, caracals, servals, baboons, large eagles, crocodiles and pythons. Though they usually confine contact calls to chirping and chittering, vervets scream and squeal when in danger.

Did you know?
  • Vervet monkeys living near areas inhabited by people can become pests, stealing food and other items and raiding crops. Good climbers, jumpers and swimmers, they often elude capture.
  • In sexual and dominance displays vervet monkeys run the gamut from shaking branches and jumping around to making a hard 'kek-kek-kek' sound to mark their territories.


                                                       copyright: Paul Janssen