Residents of Meyrick Park were shocked recently to discover members of a troop of vervet monkeys that inhabit the suburb’s dense hilltop musasa forest had been deliberately poisoned.
The steep, high Stanley and Colston hills that separate the suburb from the surrounding Mabelreign area are home to a troop of about 30 vervets, whose forebears are believed to have occupied the area since it began to be settled in the 1890s.
“It was so sad,” said Chanelle Bronkhorst, a resident. “It was a big female, about the size of a baby. We found her in the road, she was dying. She held my hand, and I was squirting milk into her mouth [to dilute the effect of the poison].
“We took her to the vet, but by the time we got there, the vet said we were a half an hour late.” The veterinary surgeon identified the poison from the vervet’s symptoms as Timic, a highly toxic substance used on tobacco and against rats. The surgeon confirmed that Timic is widely used by criminals to poison dogs to enable them to break into properties without the alarm being raised.
About a week later Mrs Bronkhorst found two more vervets, both males, dead in her garden, also evidently poisoned. “We called the ZNSPCA (Zimbabwe National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals), and they came very quickly, they were here in half an hour, with a National Parks officer,” she said.
They searched the area for clues and spoke to other residents for a possible suspect, she said. A ZNSPCA official said no arrests had been made.
Section 59(2) of the Parks and Wildlife Act prescribes maximum penalties of a fine of $300 or a year in jail for “unlawfully” killing a wild animal. The Trapping of Animals (Control) Act sets a maximum fine of $400 or two years in jail for using poison to kill a wild animal.
Troops of monkeys frequent several other parts of Harare, the best known probably Highlands Golf Course and Doon Estate where they are reported to be an often serious pest.
“It’s the people who are the problem,” said a National Parks officer. “They feed the monkeys and they don’t secure their rubbish bins properly, so the monkeys feed from them and get habituated to human food. The first thing is to manage leftovers and litter bins.”
A big-game hunter in the Ruwa area who asked not to be named said he occasionally finds his kitchen “turned into a complete disaster area, like a bomb hit it,” after being raided by vervets. “I take my rifle and go out and shoot one, and I don’t see them for a while.”
Gardens with large dogs are much less likely to have a monkey problem, he said.
Mrs Bronkhorst said she was alarmed initially after she saw no sign of the troop in the weeks after the poisonings. A neighbour, however, reported that the troop was still active on the hill.
“They have just as much right of being here as anyone else,” Mrs Bronkhorst said.