By: Alma van Dorenmalen, Rescue & Rehabilitation Manager
Orphan season is the season of the year where young primates are born and rescued throughout the country. What often happens is that vervets and baboon raid crops and get killed by villagers who are protecting their crops. When they go into the field to collect the body for human consumption, they often find babies in this season. Since they don’t eat the young ones, these orphaned animals end up being sold along the road for bushmeat or pet trade. People try to get some money out of these young animals, since tourists often feel sorry for these babies and buy them. Unfortunately, this is not something that is advised to do so, since the supply is supported when these animals are bought. The payments that are made varies from a couple of dollars and can go up to a hundred dollar for a baby vervet. Receiving those amounts for an animal can be a lot for a Malawian that works on a farm and this will reinforce them to support the illegal wildlife trade.
Cape and Salima are both victims of this illegal trade but were luckily rescued and brought to the centre. The following gives a little bit of insight of what happens with some of these young animals that get rescued.
Although Cape had a slow start and was very dehydrated and had problems drinking in the beginning he soon picked up and was introduced to Salima who was slightly older then him. Since Cape was so young it was decided to introduce him to a foster mother. Although it was not sure whether this vervet named, Mimi, would be a good foster mother; she did show maternal instincts with younger animals and it therefore made sense to at least try her. Since Mimi is extremely affiliated to people it was easy to work with her, she loves the attention. Initially Mimi showed direct interest into Cape and they were introduced to each other after having Mimi getting used to her new enclosure in Orphan Care. And then the rest of the integration procedure started. Mimi took care for Cape for a full day, however when the night started to fall she was reluctant to let him cling onto her. Cape was crying for her and kept following Mimi, however with no result. This is behaviour which I have seen before and the reasoning behind this can be that she is not used to having a baby clinging onto her when she is sleeping. However it also indicates that the bond between Cape and Mimi is not intense enough, therefore Mimi’s desire to take care of this baby is limited which concerned me. Cape was taken out of his enclosure and put to bed with Salima for the night like he normally did.
The following day the exact same procedure was executed. Cape was placed with Mimi and initially this was going well where Mimi started carrying Cape around and sometimes left him to do something else which didn’t seemed to bother Cape at all. In the mean time Salima needed a different home as well, since she still had a visual on Cape and was starting to get frustrated with him being there. Mimi wasn’t keen on having Salima around, so in order to prevent problems integrating her with Cape and Mimi was not pursued. While Cape was trying to find his way with Mimi, Salima was placed with Lulu and Chikondi. Lulu showed to be able to foster two vervet monkeys in the past, so this was a perfect idea. Although Chikondi was being very demanding and wanted to keep mom Lulu to herself, Lulu showed interest in Salima and was seen holding her a couple of times. Unfortunately when the night started to fall, Lulu chased Salima away and left her by herself in the corner being all confused. At half past eight in the complete dark, Salima was taken out while Lulu was all snuggled up with Chikondi. That evening Mimi again refused to take in Cape and actually showed less interest in him in general. Salima and Cape ended again spending the night together. After doing this for 5 days, the days became longer with not enough progress and it started to also have an effect on the animals. They were getting tired, I was getting tired. In order to feed Cape we had to distract Mimi, lock Cape up in other room, hand feed him after which we could let him go. Mimi was not happy with us feeding Cape through the fence. The inevitable question popped up, am I getting the results which I wanted to and what else could I do? It was clear at this point that Mimi wasn’t accepting Cape and Cape needed to have someone taking care of him either a person or a foster mother. Salima was clearly more independent (also older) and she would be best of in a situation where she would be either taken care for by a foster mother or at least have another vervet monkey of a similar age and character to snuggle up with at night times. Since Lulu wasn’t accepting Salima as well, plans where changed. It was decided to keep Cape alone with a human foster mother, knowing that at some point we would get more vervet monkeys in. Mimi was declared unfit, at least for this year, for being a foster mother and Salima couldn’t go back to Cape since Cape would only cling onto her as if she was her foster mother.
I made the decision to place Salima with two wild juveniles, Flip and Rita. Rita was hit by a car and was integrated with Flip who was confiscated earlier this season. Flip was initially not thrilled with this younger vervet wondering around. Although Rita tried her level best to mitigate between the two, the first night I again had to take her out since she was left in the corner by herself. The following day Flip was separated before the night fell in order to see what would happen. Luckily Rita worked her charms and Salima found comfort from her side while they stayed on the ground, far away from Flip. After two days I noticed that they were actually all on the platform, while Flip was trying to be as close as possible to them with the fence in between. Flip was placed back with them and they managed to find a way to sleep on the shelves with the three of them.
This entire integration phase for these little guys is intense since we are always trying to find ways to provide the best suitable environment for these animals. When foster mothers are not readily available the puzzle is more complicated and takes time, patience and persistence. It is also knowing when to stop and change your plans, since pushing through can lead to traumatized and highly scared animals that are more difficult to work with. Additionally animals don’t drink very well during the initial stage of an integration since they get distracted, nervous and are under more stress. This needs to be monitored closely due to a high change of them getting dehydrated quickly which lead to even a less interest in drinking. Integrating younger animals therefore is only done when they are stable and easily drink. All and all from intake until they get integrated and into a stable situation can take a couple of weeks.
Although Cape never made it with a foster mother, not too much longer after Salima was placed somewhere else, we received another vervet monkey named Tuktuk. He was integrated with Cape and they became best buddies.