Monkey and the Menu

DSC_0161Three months have gone by now since we started following the urban vervets around Lilongwe and a lot has changed. We started tracking and habituating them back in March, the rains in the region had just recently ended and the city was still lush. Luckily for them, this meant that there was a surplus of food in the fields neighbouring the Wildlife Centre.

Since then however, the dry season has crept in and their rainy season food sources have disappeared. Currently, they spend increasing amounts of time around human habitation, scavenging unattended human food items. Unfortunately, people in these areas also feed the vervets, which leads to unnatural behavior. Once these monkeys start to associate people with food, they can start to approach people, begging and stealing food. This problem came to a head when a group of children was feeding the monkeys potato crisps. One of them boldly ran by and snatched an entire bag of puffs, much to the childrens’ dismay.

The change of diet has not only affected the monkeys’ behavior, but also their nutrition. Since the monkeys have started changing their eating habits, we have also found that their feces are changing too! With an increased junk food diet, the samples are increasingly difficult to read under the microscope due to all the fat particles.

We started this study to learn more about this troop of urban vervets, but we are learning a lot about our own human habits as well! Information gained during this study will help us to address some of the human-wildlife conflict experienced in and around the city with vervet monkeys. We hope to be able to instruct people on actions that are beneficial to them as well as the health status of the monkeys (such as not feeding them!).