One woman’s rescue and rehabilitation efforts for primates is paying off despite never ending challenges.
Africa is home to over 50 species of primate, of which, 14 are endangered. Across the world, 60% of primates are endangered. If we don’t act now, will we threaten our own survival in generations to come?
Threats facing primates today
Primates are the closest animal to humans, whether we like it or not. Our cousins share many traits with us, particularly in family situations where young are reared with rules and behaviours not dissimilar to our own.
In spite of all we share with our closest relatives, we are destroying habitats through agriculture, treating some as vermin and pushing many close to extinction. Scientists have predicted that over the next 50 years, the extinction of many primates will occur unless we take action now. Christian Roos of the German Primate Centre has confirmed that, ‘Humans increasingly encroach primate habitats and exploit natural resources.’
These problems are predominant across Africa, one of the world’s poorest regions. Around 90% of the population use wood for everyday living, creating pressures in land clearance, a rise in agriculture and livestock grazing and industrialisation. Alongside deforestation, a swelling in the price of natural resources – like copper and aluminium – has led to increases in extraction, further destroying natural habitats. As deforestation takes its toll, there are decreases in their most important natural resource: water.
Water is an everyday necessity for us all. In Africa is it imperative for the survival of Vervet monkeys, who require it every single day. Whilst not endangered yet, Vervet numbers are decreasing due to human-wildlife conflict. As human habitation increases across the Vervets environments, other threats have been created. Crop-raiding has led to Vervets being poisoned and shot. At times, they have even been killed by dogs and in urban areas, had vehicular accidents or been electrocuted by pylons. They are also used for bush meat.
PASA – the Pan African Sanctuary Alliance – is the largest association of wildlife centres in Africa. It works with communities, governments, sanctuaries and global experts to support the survival of primates. Executive Director, Greg Tully, believes ‘a multi-faceted, long-term approach is essential to conserve primates. The Pan African Sanctuary Alliance’s member organisations across Africa collaborate with law enforcement agencies, communities and schools to protect primates and their habitats. The combination of PASA’s global network and its member’s local expertise and experience uniquely positions the alliance to produce lasting changes.’
With so many threats facing primates, the good news is more and more organisations are working to reduce human-wildlife conflict. Education is one very positive solution and many NGOs are working with local villages and towns to reduce this conflict. The AWF (African Wildlife Foundation) are providing communal water tanks in some areas; anti-poaching methods are growing exponentially with the media attention that poachers are now obtaining; CITES have worked for years to enforce limitations on the trade of endangered animals.
However, the threats from habitat loss are harder to curb. Countries where land can be preserved tend to be poor. What is hard to fully comprehend is that preserving the land is, in the long term, better economically. With high levels of poverty, these countries tend to think short-term, rather than long-term.
Silke – the Vervet Saviour
In Limpopo, South Africa, one woman is working tirelessly to save Vervets and release them back into the wild.
Silke von Eynern’s Bambelela organisation has released troops of rehabilitated Vervets since 2010. From the young and orphaned to the older and maimed; from being shot to being poisoned; from other accidents and incidents, Silke deals with them all.
Vervets can stay with Silke from 3-5 years depending on why they were brought in. They stay within a controlled environment and are nurtured into compatible troops – Vervets can’t be released individually – making their rehabilitation all the more challenging.
When Silke first started caring for Vervets, she researched their care and discovered that no-one seemed to be documenting their rehabilitation. Left alone, she purchased books from the UK. After reading, observing, and a four year learning curve, she had her first and largely successful release of a troop: a truly remarkable feat.
To date, Bambelela has expanded over time and now has a neonatal nursery, rehab centre and a sanctuary for monkeys that can’t be released back into the wild.
Now, Bambelela are looking to conduct research into the monkey’s behaviours and to educate people about their individual contribution, such as littering, that are putting Vervets at risk. Unequivocally, they are helping Vervets not just to survive but thrive in the South African bush.
As with most charitable organisations, rising costs and an increase in the need for care and support, means that funding is always a big challenge to be faced.
Like many others, Silke is working on educating the next generation of advocates and rehabbers to protect Vervets; since it is this generation and the one after that will be dealing with the negative impact facing primates.
With the longevity of rehabilitation facing her Vervets, the centre is open for tours to help raise much-needed revenue for the Vervet monkeys. Communities, schools and families are all welcome to meet monkeys face to face and learn more about them. The centre is the perfect place for education and research up to university level.
There are additional costs for the monkeys that can’t be rehabilitated and reside in the sanctuary at the centre. Silke refuses to euthanise a monkey because of injury and the sanctuary provides an alternative if they can’t be released. She said: It’s a fantastic feeling seeing a troop of monkeys you have saved and rehabbed released into the bush, unfortunately not all of our monkeys can be given another chance of freedom. Our Sanctuary programme provides care, love, food and safety to several small groups of vervets that due to age, injury, disability or abuse are unable to enter into our rehab programme.
Apart from the Guardian Angel Program, Silke funds much of the project herself. However, she welcomes all donations and invites volunteers to help so that the rehabilitation process can continue successfully.
Contributed by Liz Hoyle