Monkey Stories - The little pickpocket

by Misty C

Blue vervet monkeys were brought in to Crow at the rate of around thirty during the breeding season. Housing all these primates and keeping them confined caused untold difficulties, as by nature they are very crafty indeed. While monkeys in the wild present huge problems in conservation, those in captivity provide almost endless amusement. I must admit that at the time of occurrence their escapades are not always funny. It is only later that a sense of the ridiculous becomes apparent, and that causes us to laugh. That my laughter sometimes bordered on hysteria brought about by frustration escaped the notice of most people, except by the director of our centre Isolde, but then she never missed anything!

After acquiring new grounds staff, escaped monkeys became the order of the day. I seemed to spend most of my time galloping around the primate area brandishing a net and bellowing dire threats to a vervet monkey having the time of it's life. Whilst engaged in this worthless pursuit, I on more than one occasion came to a screeching halt in front of a visitor to the centre. This usually caused their equilibrium to falter somewhat. One gentleman thus confronted by a seemingly lunatic individual hung around watching me for over an hour, obviously wondering whether I should not be caged as well.

In an attempt to curtail further escapades of this nature, I tried installing heavy chains with padlocks on the doors. This worked well, as long as they were diligently used. However, diminutive intellect sometimes reasoned "I'll only be a minute getting that dish out", and of course a minute is all a crafty vervet needs! The key to one of our cages resided permanently in my pocket, as it contained a hand reared monkey that belonged to me. She, being a pet, had no fear of humans and thus was considered dangerous. Due to a space shortage, I decided to put an injured female monkey in with her. Because I had to catch the monkey concerned, I handed custody of the key to a volunteer worker. She, in her defense, was entirely unaware that my monkey is a truly gifted and compulsive thief. Thus it was seconds before she and the key parted company. Loud shrieks of dismay alerted me to the fact that our plan of simple transference had developed a serious hitch. The culprit sat in the middle of her cage, playing with the keys and eyeing us with contempt. Now, if you know anything about monkeys, you will know that it can be disastrous to attempt to remove a 'toy' from their possession, and their fangs are capable of inflicting tremendous damage. The enormity of the problem did nothing for my already jangled nerves. I begged, I pleaded, all to no avail. A monkey becomes completely deaf when in possession of stolen booty. Eventually I managed to outsmart her by making her angry, whereupon she dropped the keys and moved in to attack. An assistant in the wings pulled the keys to the wire with a long stick. After a short wait for an enraged tame monkey to recover her poise, the new monkey was safely added to her cage and we all breathed a sigh of relief.

The trouble, however, was not over. The wounded monkey wet her dressing, and it shrank. Her hand doubled in size and it soon became apparent that she would have to be sedated and the dressing removed. I handed a prepared syringe to a volunteer, with instructions to pass it to me as soon as I managed to catch the monkey. While I was entering the cage and preoccupied with locking the door behind me, our resident thief put her hand through the wire and snatched the syringe. Putting it in her mouth, needle first, she ran off while I stood there, rigid with horror and disbelief. The resultant chase demoralized me as much as it delighted her - and the by now substantial audience of staff and public gathered outside the cage to witness the debacle. Again a high speed chase was conducted, and after falling over drums and branches I managed to catch her and confiscate the syringe.

Thereafter things went smoothly, except that while I snipped and removed sticky elastoplast, the thief amused herself by carefully checking my hair and body for undesirable resident insect life. This went down well with the audience, because in so doing she was lifting my shirt and exposing parts of my anatomy that are usually only revealed in the confines of my bathroom! With both hands full I could do nothing to stop her. It was with very evident relief and embarrassment that I departed that cage.

Isolde, bless her, solved the problem by suggesting I hang weights on the doors to close them automatically. I breathed a sigh of relief...............until one morning when I walked down to the clinic. There were two little black and gray faces peering at me from the roof of the cage. Inquiring as to just how this had happened I was told "Well, I just went in to fetch their dish and.........."