Vervet Monkey

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Scientific Name: Cercopithecus aethiops

A small black-faced monkey varying in colour from dull olive to grey. The black face is conspicuous and the slightly larger males have a characteristic blue scrotum.


The most widely distributed monkey in Africa, only absent from deserts, deep forests and open grasslands.

Social structure
Troops of 20 or more individuals depending on the availability of food. They sleep in trees at night but ‘cliff sleeping’ troops have been observed when suitable trees are unavailable. A great deal of grooming is done in the troop and there is a definite pecking order where the dominant individuals get the most grooming.

Range differentiation
Body colour varies across Africa and subspecies have been identified.

The vervet is found in savanna woodland, riverine woodland and coastal forests where trees are suitable for ‘roosting’. In Africa they have been found at areas of 13 000 feet.

Omnivorous. Fruits, leaves, seeds and flowers form part of the vervet’s diet. They are also known to feed on insects, small mammals and young birds. I have observed a vervet catching and eating a full grown francolin and on another occasion watched a vervet kill and eat a tree squirrel.

Birth throughout the year after a gestation period of 7 months. Infants spend the first few days clinging to their mothers and after about a month they will move about and interact with others in the troop. Mothers react differently to allowing other members of the troop to interact with the young. Some mothers allow it whereas others will do their all to prevent it.

Baby Vervet Monkey holding on to its mother

When they are very young monkeys will cling to their mothers stomachs when in the trees.


Monkeys will kill and eat birds and small mammals such as this squirrel.


Territorial fights between rival troops can become violent with individuals drawing blood from each other. I observed numerous fights between two troops in the Okavango Delta and there was a constant change of territorial lines.
Hunters and the hunted

Vervets will stick close to trees as a safety precaution against predators such as leopards, eagles, serval and even baboons. In the Okavango Delta I observed a leopard that had developed a tactic to catch vervets. When the monkeys headed into the trees the leopard would climb up after them and set its sights on one. With much screaming the monkeys would panic and jump out the tree onto the ground where the leopard followed and caught them. This was a very successful hunting technique that seldom failed.

Feeding: I have observed a vervet catching and eating a full grown francolin and on another occasion watched a vervet kill and eat a tree squirrel.

Pest control

Vervets can become pests in lodges and camps once they learn that food is easy to come by. They become very sly when wanting to steal from a table. A method I found to keep them at bay was to open a book with a picture of a leopard. A stuffed toy leopard has also been known to work. The monkeys will keep at a distance and alarm call.

Two Vervet Monkey play with each other

Monkeys in a troop are very active even when not feeding.
A Vervet Monkey watching for danger

A lookout positioned high in the trees warns the troop of danger.
The larger and more distinctive male Vervet Monkey

Males are larger than females and have the characteristic blue testicles.