Close up of a vervet monnkey with black face framed with white fur, and grey fur on the top of its head

Vervet Monkeys

Chlorocebus pygerythrus

Why are vervet monkeys important?

Vervets play an important role in the ecosystem, spreading seeds through their dung. It means vervets are instrumental in the recovery of degraded habitats and are responsible for ensuring of success of native plant life.

Vervets are an important source of prey for animals higher up the food chain, including leopards and snakes. They also hunt small animals such as insects and birds, helping to control these populations.

Key Vervet Monkey Facts

A vervet illustration


Least Concern

A vervet illustration


Unknown, decreasing. Last assessed 2022.

A vervet illustration



A vervet illustration


Open and acacia woodlands, humid rain forests, semi-desert environments and swamps

A vervet illustration


East and southern Africa

A vervet illustration


Weight: 3kg-5kg, length: 40-60cm (with a tail of 30-50cm long)

A vervet illustration


Human-wildlife conflict, bushmeat hunting and the illegal pet trade

Two vervet monkeys sit on a log facing each other, in grassy surroundings

Did you know?!

Vervet monkeys have a complex system of alarm calls which allow them to ‘talk’ to each other to warn of attack and how to escape. 

How to recognise a vervet monkey

The vervet is a medium-sized primate. They are semi-terrestrial monkeys, meaning they live on land and in the trees. They have a green-olive or silver-grey coat, black face, ears, hands and feet and long tails. Males have a blue scrotum and a red penis and are typically larger than the females.

Where do vervet monkeys live?

Vervets live in savannah, open woodland, forests and grasslands in eastern and southern Africa. They are adaptable and able to live in areas which are fragmented with agriculture or urban build-up.


A vervet sitting high up in the branches of a tree

A vervet sitting high up in the branches of a tree © Catherine O’Sullivan, Unsplash


Vervet monkey behaviour

Vervets are equally comfortable on the ground as they are in trees. They are active in the daytime and sleep in trees at night.

Excellent communicators, vervets are thought to possess the basics of language, that is, vocal communication through an intricate system of alarm calls. These calls vary greatly depending on the different types of threats to the community. For example, there are distinct predator-specific calls to warn of invading leopards, snakes and eagles. These unique calls help vervets determine not only where the danger is, but also how to best escape. For example, if a leopard alarm call is raised, vervets may run into trees to escape this predator on land. If an eagle alarm call is raised, vervets may instead look up or run under a bush to avoid an aerial attack.

Vervets spend several hours a day grooming, removing parasites, dirt or other material from each other’s fur. Dominant individuals get the most grooming. A hierarchical system also controls feeding, mating, fighting, friendships and even survival. Young vervets chase one another, wrestle, tumble and take turns pushing each other off a high perches.

The society of vervet monkeys is built on complex but stable social groups known as troops, consisting of 10-50 individuals, with largely adult females and their immature offspring. Vervets are seasonal breeders, giving birth after the rainy season when food is at its most abundant. Mothers produce a single offspring after a gestation is five and a half months. Vervet mothers are extremely protective of their babies, although some will still leave their infants in the charge of an interested female.

Females remain in their birth groups throughout their entire life, but males will transfer troops at least once following puberty. Changing troops can be dangerous; the young males may encounter predators without the protection of their troop, and new troops may not accept them. There is a strict social hierarchy among troop members; a mother’s social standing predetermines that of her offspring’s, and even adults in a family must submit to juveniles of families with higher social status.

A vervet sitting on a branch

A wild vervet © Ivan Sabayuki, Unsplash

What are the threats to vervet monkeys?

Despite being categorised of Least Concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, from a conservation perspective, vervet populations are declining due to a variety of threats.

Vervets frequently come into conflict with humans. They are considered vermin due to crop raiding and as a result are often shot, poisoned, or trapped. While vervets do not attack people, they may bite or be aggressive in self-defence.

Vervets are also killed for bushmeat in some areas. For example, in Uganda, where vervets are considered problematic because of human-wildlife conflict, people are allowed to hunt them to reduce damages and losses to their crops.

Some people think that vervets can make good pets. Often, female vervets are slaughtered for the bushmeat trade and their orphaned infants are captured for the illegal exotic pet trade and kept in poor conditions. Captive vervets can suffer terribly due to inappropriate care.

What is Born Free doing to help vervet monkeys?

Born Free works to help rescue vervets from captive exploitation and return them to the wild. We also campaign again the trade in primates.
A young vervet monkey sitting on the forest floor

Zambia Primate Project

We support the rescue, care and release of vervet monkeys, through the Zambia Primate Project in Zambia – one of Africa’s most successful primate release programmes.
A vervet monkey is sat in a small red basket with netting over the top

Wildlife Trade

Born Free campaigns against the illegal trade in bushmeat from primates and other threatened species, the live trade in infant primates, and the exotic pet trade around the world.
A captive vervet in a zoo enclosure

Zoos & Aquaria

Vervets are often kept in zoos and other captive facilities. Born Free strongly opposes the exploitation and keeping of wild animals in captivity and campaigns to phase out the keeping of animals in zoos.