Born Free Foundation - Keep Wildlife in the Wild

Vervet Voice

Zambian Independence Day, 24 October 2011

The Zambia Primate Project (ZPP) rescues and rehabilitates needy primates, integrating them into cohesive troops, teaching them all they need to know to adapt to their new lives out of captivity, and then releasing them back into the wild, where they belong. They are then closely monitored every step of the way by a loyal team living and working deep in the great African bush.Vervet Voice will endeavour to bring this whole process to life for you, so that you may begin to understand the incredibly tough lives each and every one of these primates must endure as a result. It is a very costly process, but well worth every British pound, every American dollar, every Zambian kwacha. Sponsored primarily by the Born Free Foundation, an international animal welfare charitable organisation based in the UK, ZPP has been operating since 2002 and with the help of our supporters, will continue working hard to give primates back their lives and their freedom, for many, many years to come.


Vervet Voice will take you through the journey of one very brave individual, Masuku, together with various other members of this year’s release troop of Vervet Monkeys (Cercopithicus aethiops), as their paths cross and they join Masuku along her long journey to absolute freedom. So let me introduce you to Masuku...

In early January 2010 Masuku was confiscated by members of our ZPP team, together with two Wildlife Officers from ZAWA (Zambia Wildlife Authority), in the Copperbelt region of Zambia. Her mother had been killed by poachers in the forest and sold for the illegal bush meat trade. Masuku was snatched from where she still clung to her mother’s dead body and sold on the illegal pet trade. She was then kept illegally in captivity for about two years before our team learned of her plight and quickly stepped in to confiscate her.

She was immediately brought to Munda Wanga, a wildlife sanctuary in Lusaka, for her ongoing rehabilitation. Whilst in captivity she had been kept on a nylon rope leash which was secured tightly around her waist, with random pieces of metal sticking out of it. As she grew, her leash became tighter and tighter, but no-one loosened it. Over many intensely painful months the leash slowly became imbedded in her waist as her body started to grow around and over it. No veterinary care was offered to her, she had just been left to endure the serious infection which resulted.

Put under sedation by a qualified vet upon arrival at Munda Wanga, her leash was carefully removed and pus was evident all around her waist. Her wounds were cleaned, an antibiotic was administered, a full health check was carried out, routine vaccinations were given and she was treated for septicaemia in her leash wound.

Vervet monkey with wounds from rope
Masuku's infected leash wounds, with the leash still deeply embedded in her flesh

Primates at Munda Wanga must undergo at least a month in quarantine, to ensure that any diseases or other medical issues they might have can be dealt with and prevented from being passed on to others. Masuku had to spend much longer in isolation as she was initially tested positive for tuberculosis (TB) during her first month with us. This does not mean she had TB, but she had to be tested further and cleared of any trace of the disease before joining the troops in the park. Initial TB testing is carried out in both eyelids under sedation. She underwent further TB eyelid tests and chest x-rays in February, March and June last year and was then finally given a clean bill of health. This allowed her to join others of her kind, for the first time since being snatched from her dead mother about two years before.

Blood test vervet monket
Blood being drawn for testing
Testing for TB
TB testing is carried out by injection into both eyelids under sedation

Masuku was slowly integrated into a very small troop of vervets in the park over a period of a few weeks. This was done first through the bars of her night room adjoining the main enclosure, and then, when all the interactions observed by our team and sanctuary staff were positive, Masuku was finally released into an open-topped, electrified enclosure.

There she could now live with a clear view of the sky, be able to climb a tree at night, be groomed freely by others of her kind, learn the complicated hierarchy of troop life and find her own place within that order. She had a great leader in the alpha male Mapepe, a very gentle and dear soul, with a pitiful story of his own, as have all the primates in our care.

Yet even now within her first family group, the ordeal of needles and sedation was still not over. Dear Masuku had to be retested for TB yet again last September with all the primates at Munda Wanga, after a suspected outbreak, which was never confirmed, and again, routinely as a follow-up to that, with all the other primates in April 2011.

In all, Masuku has undergone 6 TB eyelid tests. Had she not been snatched from her mother, she would never have even seen a needle.

Over a lengthy period of several months this year, Mapepe’s troop of 8 monkeys was very slowly integrated with Caesar’s troop of 15 and Bagheera’s troop of 4, in order to form one cohesive troop in time for this November’s release into Kafue National Park. It’s been a very lengthy process, with many changes in the hierarchy and various injuries along the way, but the troop was complete towards the end of August. And so Masuku’s story continues as she learns the ways of this new, much larger troop than she or any of the others are used to.

This brings us up to date with Masuku, who has now been with us for almost two years. She is now into her final weeks before her release back into the wild. So catch up with Masuku next time to hear how she coped with the final integrations and where she will be placed in the troop hierarchy under the new dominant male, Bagheera, after he beat Caesar and Mapepe to the grand title of alpha male.

To find out about volunteer opportunities in Zambia, visit:

Make a donation to the Zambia Primate  Project here>

Zoë Lapthorn

Project Manager

Zambia Primate Project


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

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