39. Blue

If I say the word “monkey” to you, a whole bunch of associations are sure to be triggered. First of all, you will picture a cheeky little scamp, a charming, miniature man-beast who lives to laugh and play, swinging through the trees playing practical jokes on his companions and eating bananas. If you’ve spent a bit of time in zoos, you might also picture a certain amount of self-abuse and poo flinging. And this is how you will picture his home;

With a tree or two in it.

With a tree or two in it.

None of that applies to the monkeys of the Lowveld. I rather suspect it doesn’t apply to other monkeys either. The monkeys of the Lowveld live here;

Fairly rich in actually vaguely large bushes.

Fairly rich in actually vaguely large bushes.

And that might just explain everything else about them. Because they are not cheeky little scamps. They are not charming, and they don’t laugh and play nearly as much as you would suspect. They are, in fact, vicious, criminal little thugs. Say hello to the Vervet monkey.

Staring is rude.

Staring is rude.

If I seem a little disapproving of them, I’m not. I think they’re awesome. What they are not, however, is “cute”. If you look at the picture of the jungle up there, where monkeys evolved to live, you’ll see that it’s almost all tree. Which is a nice place for monkeys to live. They live concealed in the leafy green treetops, almost permanently surrounded by food of one sort or another, out of reach of terrestrial predators, prey only to the odd eagle or snake. Not so much with the Vervets. If you look at the savannah picture, you’ll see that it’s more grass than trees. The trees are also smaller, with open, small leafed canopies. There is no safety here. The Vervets are under constant pressure from predators on all fronts. Up in the trees they can get taken out by eagles and owls, snakes, and the odd particularly agile leopard. On the ground, there are more snakes, lions, hyenas, jackals, caracals and a multitude of others. They are even preyed upon by their cousins, the baboons. And they can’t hide away up in the treetops, either. Because the savannah is a much poorer place for monkeys than the jungle. Finding food is a constant struggle.

There is little time for simply hanging out with friends.

There is little time for simply hanging out with friends.

The seasons are more pronounced. There is no fruit around in winter. There are hardly even any leaves. The monkeys need to come out of the trees to supplement their diets and to drink. And supplement they do. They are omnivores. They will eat whatever they can get their hands on, including insects, eggs, and fledglings. All this makes the Vervet Monkey a fairly serious animal. When I was younger, we used to play a game with them. When they gathered around our place in the bush, we would go out and dance with them. Not cheek to cheek, mind you. Those things have fleas. When you looked at one, it would suddenly stare right at you and bob the whole front of its body up and down. We would bob back at it. It would bob to the side. So would we. Up, down, left and right we would go, and so would the monkey, staring harder and becoming more and more exaggerated in its movements as the dance went on. What fun and games we had with our little friends. Or not. I later found out that what the monkey was doing was a mortal threat. A prelude to opening up a can of whoop-ass. It was the monkey equivalent of spreading your arms out and shouting “Come at me, bro!” It was a threat we would have done well to heed. We were probably safe, because these were wild monkeys, but people get bitten by them often.

Many seemingly innocent wild animals are more confrontational than you would suspect.

Many seemingly innocent wild animals are more confrontational than you would suspect.

Because Vervet Monkeys love people. Or rather they love our food. If you spend your time scrabbling a meagre existence from the desiccated savannah, finding a creature that leaves vast piles of food lying around is a godsend. There is hardly a hotel in South Africa that doesn’t have its own troop of Vervets. They dart in at any given opportunity to grab scraps left on tables, or buffet displays. They even break into houses. If we ever left a door or window open down in the bush when they were around, we were sure to be treated to the sight of an awkwardly two legged monkey running off into the distance with arms full of oranges and apples or even the occasional unfeasibly big melon. They have even moved into the suburbs, making life a misery for the residents, who have to be constantly alert. They get so bad that there’s even a show about them on the Discovery Channel which is basically just a video montage of them stealing things that don’t belong to them.

The unacceptable face of suburban crime.

The unacceptable face of suburban crime.

The ones who haunt busy hotels can be a huge problem. Because they get tame. Ish. They lose their fear of people. They are smart enough to learn to recognise the hotel employees who drive them off at every opportunity, but will come right up to tourists. And that’s where the problems start. Because they don’t want to be friends. When someone, often a child, gets too familiar, things go to hell. They bite. With these;

Those teeth are not there for eating berries.

Those teeth are not there for eating berries.

Something else rather odd happens at some of these hotels. The Vervets become alcoholics. People leave half empty drinks lying around pools or out on patios, and the monkeys help themselves. And they are just like people. Some abstain. Some have the odd tipple. And some become hardened drinkers. This shouldn’t come as any surprise. Vervet Monkey’s lives are a constant political struggle. Every day is like a game of survivor. They live in troops of twenty or more, and have a strict hierarchy, enforced by violence. They make alliances, by grooming favoured companions, and allies will unite to take on enemies.

This monkey is deeper in intrigue than the whole cast of "Game of Thrones".

This monkey is deeper in intrigue than the whole cast of “Game of Thrones”.

Young males get bullied but the two or three senior males in the troop, and get driven out to move into neighbouring troops to start the long climb up the social ladder. The females inherit their status from their mothers, but can lose it to a stronger competitor, or one with better allies. The political game makes them vindictive; they have been seen wilfully destroying their enemies’ food, rather than simply eating it themselves, out of something very much like spite. All this proves a little stressful. they have been diagnosed with hypertension and anxiety disorders. So not so much the whole “carefree monkey” thing. More the “one more drink for the road” thing

One more drink and he's going to pick a fight with the bouncer.

One more drink and he’s going to pick a fight with the bouncer.

The constant struggle of their lives has given them one thing. It has given them something very much like language. With so many predators around them, they do, despite their differences, depend on each other. The more eyes there are looking out for predators, the better their chances, so whoever spots a potential danger gives a warning call. But a warning call is not enough. If an eagle is coming after you, you need to behave very differently to the way you would if a snake popped up next to you, or if a hyena came rotting along. So they have a number of different warning calls. One for birds like eagles, one for snakes, one for ground predators, and even one for us. And the one for us is, interestingly enough, almost identical to the one for snakes.

Vervets are very vulnerable when on the ground.

Vervets are very vulnerable when on the ground.

You could spend a lifetime studying creatures as common as Vervets, but that sort of covers the basics. Except for on thing. Their name. Vervet. It means nothing. It sort of looks like it could be somebody’s name, as in Burchell’s Zebra. But it isn’t. It sort of looks like it might be French. But it isn’t. It is simply a gibberish word. Balderdash. Gobbledygook. And that will not do. It’s always bothered me. But I’ve never been in a position to do anything about it. And now I am. Thanks to you guys. Together, we can make a difference. Together, we can make sense. Here’s what I’m thinking; we need a name that will tie into the animal itself. A name that both describes the animal and makes it easy to remember. A name that fits. Let me show you what I mean. This is called  a Proboscis Monkey. Guess why.

It's because it has quite a big nose.

It’s because it has quite a big nose.

This is called a Helmeted Guineafowl. Guess why.

It's because it's wearing a helmet.

It’s because it’s wearing a helmet.

This is a Horned Adder. Guess why.

It's because it has horns.

It’s because it has horns.

I’m sure you a picking up the trend here. Lets find a name that fits. that works. That describes as well as identifies. So what about this guy?

The Long Tailed Monkey?

The Long Tailed Monkey?

Look back at all the pictures on this post and see if anything springs to mind. If there’s not something that leaps out at you. Lets agree on a name and get this set right. I’ve started you off with a couple of ideas.


62 thoughts on “39. Blue

  1. safia says:

    ‘Bleue comme une orange’ (with apologies to Paul Eluard)

  2. […] Tuesday, I was going to write about monkeys, but there were politicians flinging human poo around. Post […]

  3. The mental picture of monkeys drunk on the left over drinks of the hotel guests is quite amusing – but probably it would all end in tears….

  4. Marilyn Makela says:

    The blueball monkey.

  5. Jeanne says:

    Well I know the monkey I saw at the zoo was not one of these. Story is hilarious yet sad at the same time. Just because they don’t speak english . . . they sure do exhibit behavior that is similar to impovershed cultures.

  6. […] good people, is a Chacma Baboon. When I wrote about Vervet Monkeys yesterday, I implied that they were a bit of a handful. They are nothing compared to these guys. […]

  7. Haha! Great informative little summary of them. I was going to say that I understood why you thought they weren’t cute. But then I remembered the pic of a family of them I got. The baby was beyond cute. Then I saw you got one that definitely is cute, the suburban crime one. I say black-faced works, but is that already taken? I haven’t spent nearly as much time around them as you, but during my trip I became convinced that habituated baboons were the bigger hazard by far. That and really brave, hungry jackals that bite your big toe through the wall of your tent, your blanket and your sock.

  8. This is quite an interesting post. I enjoyed reading about your monkeys. Could the title of your post also be a clue to the new name for your monkeys? 😉

    I say “your” monkeys because there are none running around and terrorizing where I live.


  9. […] on May 29, I hope you’ll enjoy the subject of his discourse — the Vervet Monkey (click here to go to his […]

  10. Cheyenne says:

    Oh my Gosh, I am ROARING. Throughout the post I kept saying to myself “That Monkey has blue balls”. Great post with a surprise ending!

  11. KG Visions says:

    Thank you for all the information. He has blue balls!

  12. Sue says:

    Undoubtedly one of your best, although I enjoy them all. I had just used the vervet monkey as an example of “blue-ness” in animal coloration in my Backyard Biology blog: http://bybio.wordpress.com/2013/05/29/true-blue/

  13. mariekeates says:

    It could be worse! In Gibraltar the monkeys (they call them apes) are the biggest crime wave in the whole country. They have locks on the doors and bars on the windows just to keep them out. They steal from ladies handbags and mens pockets, break into houses and generally terrorise everyone. But they are protected and it’s against the law to harm them because legend has it that if the ales leave Gibraltar, Gibraltar will cease to be British. Mind you they are a real draw for the tourists.

  14. That is an impressive set of bollox they have. Another fantastic post.
    As for being sick of you by the end of 100 posts, I highly doubt it. I hope you continue to make it 365 in 365 (shame it’s not a leap year as 366 would be even better).

  15. colonialist says:

    For decades we have lived in peace and harmony with our troops by remaining on friendly terms with them. With us, they are tame. One even pats the Maltese. However, just lately the pressures of urbanisation have grown too much and they are becoming more and more of a nuisance. The Durban developments are now taking just too much of their environment, I think.

  16. pfstare says:

    I was just wondering why the blue though. It’s the kind of blue that almost glows in the dark. It doesn’t say much for the intelligence of the female of the species that they had to be quite so obvious…

    • 23thorns says:

      It’s a signpost. It’s there as much for the subordinate males as it is the females. It shows that he is one of the dominant males. Kind of like a Ferrari.

      • pfstare says:

        So there are SHADES of blue balls or only some who get to have the privilege of blueness? The mind boggles…

      • 23thorns says:

        Just wait until I show you the baboon ladies. They don’t have signposts, they have billboards. Your mind won’t be boggled, it will be beaten into submission and cowering in the corner.

      • pfstare says:

        I’m British, I’m not sure I can take much more 😉

  17. Trapper Gale says:

    I find myself making sure I have plenty of time to read your posts so I can thoroughly enjoy them because they are SO entertaining… and educational. Hmmm… drunk, blue balled monkeys, indeed.

  18. narf77 says:

    The most interesting heirachy going on around here involved chickens. They do a lot of what the vervet monkey’s do and the only thing stopping them from popping into the house through the dog door and sampling anything that they find is Earl. I get the feeling that it’s “better the devil you know” when it comes to chickens. A bit of poo on your shoe and the odd exploding summer egg seems like a small burdon to bear when others could end up losing a limb. I would imagine it would take a chicken a fair while to work it’s way through a limb…Chickens have their own language…it isn’t so much ruled by heirachy as by sheer unmittigated stupidity. A chook sees another chook “DANGER” a chook sees anything other than another chook “DANGER”…anything really sets them off. 3 roosters crowing 24/7 is almost as mentally destructive as a team of vervets going off occasionally. All in all you can keep the vervets Mr 23Thorns. We have lots of trees here on Serendipity Farm…so many that a wandering tribe of vervets could set up shop and ply their trade. They remind me of a tribe of nomadic gypsies and they sound like they are just as welcome when they come to town ;). By the way, your dear constant readers have some wonderful names. My favourite of today’s bunch is “Piglove”.

    • 23thorns says:

      It sounds to me like Earl is worth his weight in gold on serendipity farm. He is single handedly holding back all the evil in the world. I saw your picture of the ‘possum the other day. I know how you feel about them, so I’m going to call it “ominous”, but tracyloveshistory thinks he’s “cute”. She can be very insensitive!

      • narf77 says:

        Tracy can have the possum. Steve sees the thieving little bollocks every night when he heads out to lock the chooks in (we don’t trust them while we sleep…). He waits till dark and then comes down to eat as much chook food as he can…I dare say those eyes are being fuelled by our hard graft…at least he hasn’t formed a gang like the vervets. Possums tend to be ornery creatures (not sure how you spell that…not sure the originators of the word know how to spell that! 😉 ) that don’t like anyone else including their own kind. Earl is the reincarnation of a young French base jumper. I have ascertained this by his desire to try to kill himself by pelting around all over the place, his complete disregard for his own safety, his incredible energy and the fact that he has NO idea what I am saying to him…I can bag both Earl and the possum up for Tracy if you like. He fancies a vacation where he can hunt with his ancestors. Could you please send him back after about a week though…the chooks might be stupid, but they are cunning stupid and will work out pretty soon that Earl isn’t here any more and then they will take over. Bezial is next to useless with them. He has learned to be a “Good Dog” and not even look at them. In teaching him to be a “Good Dog” we tool away his bollocks (both metaphorically AND literally…Earl is still in posession of his…) and the other day he was in the chook yard with me when I let the chooks out and one of the hens climbed out first, perched on his head and walked down his back… NO respect (and where the heck is that camera when you need it!!!)…so if you wouldn’t mind terribly, we will have him back when he has finished teaching your hyena’s and wild dogs how to hunt…

  19. Lets call him blue balls.

  20. Judy says:

    This is the Patriotic Monkey…has Red, White and Blue!!
    🙂 Totally fun write up and informative too!!

  21. Jocelyn Hers says:

    They are also amazingly fast. “See food, move in, move OUT” and can get through spaces that wouldn’t fit a mouse.

  22. If coloring is any indication, it’s no wonder they are such temperamental creatures. It appears somebody could use a little loving companionship…

    • 23thorns says:

      That is exactly what those are there for. Only high ranking males have them, and they spend an awful lot of time “advertising”. As you may have noticed.

  23. aginginternational says:

    How about calling them human, or frightened living beings just trying to survive?

    • 23thorns says:

      They certainly are remarkably human, and surviving in the bush is no easy task. But frightened they are not. They are remarkably tough and resourceful little buggers.

  24. NIDS LOVE BIG EYES says:

    Must stay I’ve never been up close enough to the little buggers to notice those incredible blue appendages, that is just hilarious.

  25. kelloggs77 says:

    As if I couldn’t love your blog more, you write about drunk blue-balled monkeys. I declare you Master of the Universe.

  26. TamrahJo says:

    The Blue Private Monkey?
    I know, I know, but it really does stand out in the picture!

  27. Buzzwordz says:

    You need to promise that after these first hundred days are up, there will be a second hundred days!

    • 23thorns says:

      Nope. This is it. My imagination will have been bled dry and I’ll be taking a nice, long break. And I’m sure by then you’ll all be heartily sick of me.

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