Friday, November 26, 2010

New addition

There's a new arrival on the block.
Or perhaps I should say on the tree.

The vervet troop that sleeps in the big nyala tree outside my backdoor has a brand new member.

He's black, meagrely furred and very unsteady on his pins.
And he spends most of his time upside down.

At the moment (actually during most of his moments), he's clinging to his mum's tummy, his tiny fingers and toes entwined in her silvery fur, and his tail encircling her leg. Every now and then, while everyone else is busy nibbling buds and flowers, he clambers down to poke about, carefully examining twigs and leaves with an air of enraptured wonderment.

I haven't even tried to take his photograph because his mum's so protective. Each time she sees me watching him tottering about, she hauls him back by the tail, bundles him up against her stomach and retreats to a more sheltered spot. But I tracked down some photos so you can share in the pleasure of seeing him. I mean, one baby vervet looks much the same as the next, doesn't it? (I may be committing vervet sacrilege here).

New vervet monkey (Cercopithecus aethiops).
Photo by Louise and Arno Meintjes.

Well, yes I know that troop members discriminate between babies. You see infants possess a strong allure in vervet society, and mothers are happy for other group members to babysit their kids. In my local troop, the young females spend lots of time sifting through the little one's sparse fur, tickling him and rolling him about in play, and retrieving him from real and imagined perils. Meanwhile, last year's youngster (whom I think is much more appealing in his coat of soft grey) is now spending his time sitting alone looking forlorn. I considered hurling an apple at him, but I suppose I mustn't encourage him in bad habits (ah, the perils of comfort eating...).

Vervets lose their black baby-fur at around three months of age.
Photo by Louise and Arno Meintjes.

Research has shown that vervets prefer to fuss over the kids of family members, and babies with high-ranking mums are more popular than those whose mums are lower on the social scale. But the monkeys aren't just babysitting to curry favour, because - just as in humans - first-born infants top the popularity stakes, regardless of their mum's social standing (written with the gritted teeth of a fifth-born child).

Vervet mothers might be relaxed about letting their companions dandle their babes, but if a dispute arises, they rush to their little darling's aid, regardless of who instigated the trouble. As a result of this blind dedication, baby vervets enjoy the same social standing as their mums; so if she's top dog, the little monster can pretty much rule the roost.

Angelic innocence? Take a closer look.
 This little guy has two nipples clamped in its jaws (you can just see its darker pink tongue in between). The nipples of female vervets are positioned close together and it's routine for infants to guzzle from both nipples at once.
Photo by Louise and Arno Meintjes.


  1. Interesting post. Thanks. Diane

  2. Frankly, you had me at "The vervet troop that sleeps in the big nyala tree outside my backdoor has a brand new member."

  3. Diane,
    Vervets are endlessly interesting little creatures. I wish I knew what all their calls meant (although they may be swearing at me!).

    Friend of HK,
    Yes, little vervets are lovely but they pale into insignificance next to your delightful baby macaques!

    Murr Brewster,
    I love having wild animals going about their daily lives right outside my door; it's such a privilege. Of course the hippos do get kind of noisy...


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