Born Free USA Global Field Projects
Zambia Primate Project (ZPP) continues to give freedom back to vervet monkeys in Northern Kafue National Park in Zambia. The sort of freedom where you see monkeys jumping from tall tree to tall tree, branch to branch, moving from one area to another as they choose, eating types of food they are naturally meant to eat.
When releasing into the wild monkeys that have been in captivity for a very long time, we always have our fingers crossed for what is going to happen next in terms of their behavior, especially on their final day in the holding enclosure.
Let me share with you the story of one of our vervet monkeys in our release troop, called Ballas.
Ballas is one of the sub-adult males in the troop. He is very healthy and proving to be strong and shows that he has a good sense of direction.
A week after release from the holding enclosure, we woke up, went to the site where the monkeys were and to our surprise we found that they were scattered. This behavior was strange because it was the first time we tracked them all at the same position and as we sat there and were trying to figure out what had happened, and whether an animal had tried to attack them, we realised that Ballas was missing from the troop.
We searched around for him for weeks and weeks but to no avail. Ballas only stayed in the wild with the troop for a week. We had lost hope because we knew he didn’t have the jungle skills to survive on his own. The only hope we had was if only he joins a wild troop, learns their behavior and the foods they eat, he could perhaps survive. At some point we thought maybe he left the troop because he knew he was becoming an adult and knew the competition ahead of him.
Almost two months passed without Ballas, but then, on Jan. 28, as we were searching for the big troop, joy and smiles were on everyone’s faces. Ballas had joined alpha female Juliet and her babies. We were quite spooked by how easily she accepted him because it had been a long time since they saw each other.
His return raised questions about how he found Juliet. Did he mark the area before he left? How did he survive out there and know the right foods to feed on?
He stayed with Juliet and her two babies, Jumanji and Shishamba, and we observed their behavior. Interestingly, Juliet was proving to be the dominant one — whenever they were fed, Ballas would always hide and only come down when Juliet moved away from the food. Sometimes they slept in the same tree and sometimes not. This kind of behavior continued until Ballas started to be found with another wild monkey which would run every time he saw us.
Ballas was full of surprises. The other morning we went to check on the big troop only to find that Ballas was among them after two solid months. He moved about 800 meters to find the troop. We were surprised that he was accepted into the troop without problems because it is known thatvervet monkeys commonly reject troop members who stay away for a long time. We think this exception occurred because Ballas was a sub-adult and that he isn’t much of a threat to the adult males’ status.
Clearly,vervet monkeys have a great sense of direction and that no matter how long a monkey has been in captivity, we can never doubt how quickly they learn and adapt. Having survived all along on the jugnle, Ballas is now living happily with the troop again.