The vervet monkey (Cercopithecus aethiops) is the most widely distributed monkey in Africa, only absent from desert, high forest and open grassland. They live in troops of about 20 individuals and are common in savannah, riverine woodland and coastal scrub forest. Vervet monkeys are endemic to Africa, but not of conservation concern (classified as “least concern” by IUCN). However, their natural habitat is rapidly decreasing due to cultivation, resulting in increased incidents of crop raiding by the monkeys. Consequently, these primates are chased or even killed by humans.
The Vervet Monkey Research Project investigates the feeding, daily movements, population demographics, and behaviour of a troop residing near the Mogalakwena River Lodge. Students participating in this project need to be patient and dedicated. Monkeys are early risers, requiring the student to be out at the monkeys’ sleeping site before dawn (around 4:30 AM in summer and 6:00 AM in winter). Our monkeys are not collared with GPS devices, and therefore students need to learn tracking skills to locate the troop each day. Due to the nature of the project and the study animals, we do not allow more than two people out with the monkeys, so students will often work unsupervised.
Vervet monkey feeding ecology
Vervet monkeys are omnivorous and opportunistic animals that feed during the day. They forage both on the ground and in trees. Their diet consists of a variety of fruits, flowers, leaves, and seeds. However, they may also prey on insects and small vertebrates (lizards, eggs, nestling birds) or mammals like rodents. Vervet monkeys are also known to raid gardens, kitchens, and waste bins in human settlements. During this project students have the opportunity to study the feeding ecology of the troop, investigating diet, habitat preference, differences between sexes and seasonal differences. Additionally, students could look at the home range and movement patterns of the monkeys.
Vervet monkey troop demographics and social behaviour
The MRC is currently developing an identification kit for the individuals of the River Lodge Troop, which will be the responsibility of the student to learn and keep up to date. Once the student knows how to approach the troop, and individuals can be identified, social interactions within the troop can be studied. The student could investigate group dynamics, vigilance behaviour, communication within the troop, dominance hierarchy, and/or sexual behaviour. There is also the possibility to study human-animal conflict by looking at how often conflicts occur and which individuals