Born Free Foundation - Keep Wildlife in the Wild

Vervet Voice Feb 2012 - I

vervet monkey

Sub-adult male vervet monkey Sami arrived at Munda Wanga Wildlife Sanctuary semi-paralysed in the lower half of his body. It is thought that those trying to trap him might have dropped the trap or its door onto his back, causing the paralysis. X-rays were taken and Sami underwent a lengthy rehabilitation, during which he very slowly regained his mobility.

However, as a result, his growth appears to have been a little stunted and his weight gain has been very gradual, far slower than others. When he walks and climbs, he resembles a little old man to the outsider’s eye. But those who know Sami well, and see the speed at which he seemingly “flies” through the bush when being pursued by those of a higher ranking, know differently. It is at these moments that we can be sure he is not suffering in any way and indeed that he is as fast as – no, he is faster than – his friends.

vervet monkey in zambia

His small disability distanced him somewhat from many of his troop, who took advantage of it and of the opportunity it presented them to chase him relentlessly in order to gain a step up in the troop hierarchy.

Sami, however, remained a dear fella and was friendly and loving to all who would give him the time for a grooming session.  Such sessions were immediately put on hold if another decided to chase him off again - a regular occurrence at Munda Wanga, before he really discovered himself after his release.

Sami was thus a very low ranking young adult male by the time he was released with his friendsinto Kafue National Park in Zambia on 12 December 2011. Four adult males far outranked him in the bush. One was alpha male Bagheera and another was his second in command Mapepe, both of whom ran off on their own upon release. Another was Mulwendo, a wild adult male who took over Bagheera’s role of alpha male the very same day Bagheera gave up the role, and still continues in that role today.

The final one is Tripod who was chased just as much as Sami at Munda Wanga and who was even lower ranking than Sami. Although far larger than Sami, Tripod has one arm missing, possibly through his crop raiding exploits pre-Munda Wanga, which pushed him way down in the ranking in a captive environment.

Weeks after the troop’s release, Mulwendo and Tripod would go off on expeditions for several days at a time, recruiting more troop members, it would seem; wild ones! Sami would thus be left behind as the sole remaining adult male of the previous five, to lead the troop.

Within just days of this change of status, Sami’s previously tiny, part-formed testicles “swelled” almost to that of a full grown adult male! We had learnt not to expect this to ever happen for Sami due to his past medical history and stunted beginnings. It seems this process was as a direct result of his newfound status in the troop –albeit temporary – although his body was not to know this. It was during one of Mulwendo and Tripod’s expeditions that a wild troop of yellow baboons encountered our vervet monkey troop. Sami, in an attempt to protect his troop, ran off to chase these far larger animals away, single-handedly. He jumped on one and ran after the rest!

  • Vervet monkey with baboon troop (1)
  • Vervet monkey with baboon troop (2)

Sami was gone for a whole day and we worried for his safety. Had he been seriously wounded by the baboons? We found him by the roadside the next day, with a nasty head wound. After a slow start, he readily followed our lead back to his vervet monkey troop. There he remained for a week or so, alternating with Mulwendo and Tripod for leadership of the troop whenever an expedition arose.

Until, one morning, we arrived to find Sami gone. After a long search we happily found him back by the roadside – in close proximity to a large troop of yellow baboons! Try as we might, Sami’s decision was already made – as with others before him, he too had now chosen a life as a “Vervet Baboon”!

We dropped by to check on him whenever the yellow baboon troop was in the area, and Sami would come towards us to acknowledge us, but would not reach us. Instead, he would remain closer to his new family than to us – as if an invisible, but very meaningful, line had been drawn. And whom do you suppose our small adult male vervet monkey chose to be his closest friend? The largest of all those yellow baboons – the alpha male! What a sight we were presented with one day as we walked along the track – a very large yellow baboon, flanked on one side (well, by his knee actually) by our very own Sami.

At this time of year - the rainy season here in Kafue National Park - new seasonal fruits appear from week to week throughout the bush, and the monkeys and baboons and other species alike move to those areas with an abundance of the fruits they love the most. Hence our dear Sami has now moved on with his new family in search of fruits, to live as they live, to learn their ways and to discover through them where all the best foods are to be found in which month, so he will be fully prepared for the next rainy season.

Whether he chooses to remain a “Vervet Baboon” or to return to his former life as a vervet monkey rests with Sami. Fate gave him the chance to rise from bullied captive monkey to temporary alpha male, which in turn pushed his previously stunted body back on track and into “growth mode” once more, making him the stronger and more independent monkey he then became, giving him the confidence to go off on his own and make his own choice as to the life he was now going to pursue.

Zambia Primate Project, supported by the Born Free Foundation, rescued Sami from a sad and solitary existence in captivity, rehabilitated him and prepared him for the life he was always destined to leadin the wild. It is now up to Sami to make his own decisions and live out his life as he wishes. We only hope to bump into him from time to time as we walk through the bush with other released primates, and silently greet our dear old friend Sami.

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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