Born Free Foundation - Keep Wildlife in the Wild

Vervet Facts

Vervets are primates, a group of mammals that includes monkeys, apes and humans, and more specifically monkeys. They are widespread and adaptable, with a small body size they can weigh, on average, between 3.5 and 5kg.

How are vervets classified?

Living things can be organised into different groups.  Species that are alike are grouped together.  This is called classification.

Class:                     Mammals

Order:                   Primates

Family:                  Cercopithecidae

Species:               Chlorocebus pygerythrus


Vervets are widely distributed in East and Southern Africa and are found in open woodlands and savannah, particularly dominated by acacia tree species and along water-courses.


As long as they have access to water and trees to sleep in, vervets are tolerant of a wide variety of habitats and can live in humid rain forests, semi-desert environments or even swamps.  Their preferred habitat is acacia woodland found along streams, rivers and lakes and, adept at raiding crops, they also exploit areas near cultivated fields.  Equally comfortable on the ground as they are in trees, vervets are diurnal (active in the daytime) and sleep in trees at night.  Predators include leopards, pythons, eagles or even baboons.  Vervet meat is also a popular human food source in certain areas.  


Vervets have an extremely varied diet, including fruit, flowers, leaves and young shoots predominantly, although bark, bulbs, roots, fungi, gum, nuts and grass seeds are also consumed.  The most omnivorous of primates, along with chimps and baboons, the vervet’s diet is supplemented with insects, grubs, eggs, baby birds, lizards, rodents and other vertebrates.  Food can be crammed into cheek pouches to be consumed in a safe place. 


Vervet monkeys are a medium-sized semi-terrestrial monkey, with brown to olive bodies, a white to off-white underside, a black face and in males, and a bright turquoise scrotum.

Ecology and Behaviour

Vervets are thought to possess what has been called the ‘rudiments of language’.  Vocal communication has been well studied and vervets have an intricate system of alarm calls.  These calls vary greatly depending on the different types of threats to the community.  There are distinct calls to warn of invading leopards, snakes, and eagles.

Like many primates, vervets spend several hours a day grooming, removing parasites, dirt or other material from one another's fur.  In the primates' hierarchy, dominant individuals get the most grooming.  The hierarchical system also controls feeding, mating, fighting, friendships and even survival.  Young vervets chase one another, wrestle, tumble and play ‘king-of-the-castle’, taking turns pushing each other off a high perch.

Vervet society is built on complex but stable social groups (known as troops) of between 10 and 50 individuals, largely adult females and their immature offspring.  Females remain in their natal groups throughout their entire life.  There is a strict social hierarchy among troop members; a mother’s social standing predetermines her offspring’s, and even adults in a family must submit to juveniles of families with higher social status.  Males transfer troops at least once in their lifetime, beginning at puberty.  This is a dangerous process not least because of the predators they may encounter in transit.

Vervets are seasonal breeders, giving birth during times of food abundance after the rainy season.  Females reach maturity at around four years and males by five years.  After mating gestation is 5.5 months with a single offspring produced.  The newborn has black hair and a pink face and it will be four months before it acquires adult coloration.  Vervet mothers are extremely protective of their babies, and some will not allow young or even other adult females to hold or carry them, although some will still leave their infants in the charge of any interested female.


Although widespread, their distribution is patchy and they are prone to decline and local extinction, in part because they can occur in small isolated groups. Mortality from a range of natural predators occurs but they are also susceptible to habitat fragmentation and loss. Crop raiding behaviour puts them in direct conflict with local human populations who persecute them. Vervets are shot, trapped, poisoned and even eaten. Born Free is working in Malawi and Zambia to rescue vervets from captivity where they are kept as pets and release them back into the wild.

Born Free Foundation
Broadlands Business Campus, Langhurstwood Road
, Horsham, RH12 4QP, UK - Charity Reg. No. 1070906

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