Elegant forest primates under threat

Simango monkey

By Norma Tsopo

When a baby Simango monkey was snapped up from the trees by an eagle – one of Vumba’s apex predators, John Kerr’s heart sank.

Baby Simango monkey

“We are very down on Simango monkeys nowadays. It’s not the eagles that are killing them. It’s the poachers,” Kerr says.

He says in 2014 their area had two troops numbering about 60. “Counting frequently as l can now, seems there are about 25. So the eagles’ primate food is also diminishing,” he says.

Simango monkey

This population decline of the uncommon forest primates was buttressed by Marianne Buttress who decried rampant poaching of the monkeys.

“We used to have so many as well. Now we see them so infrequently, and almost every man you see walking on the roads, is holding a catapult. All so sad, as people come to see our forest, the Simango and everything else,” Buttress said.

Known as Samango monkeys in South Africa and Cercopithecus mitis in Latin, they are also referred to as Blue or Sykes monkeys.

They live in evergreen montane forests in Africa. This limits their occurrence to in Zimbabwe to patches of forests along the eastern highlands. And vegetation loss is also worsening their situation.

Illegal settlements and poaching are threatening to leave Vumba’s breath-taking mountains bare despite the balding mountains being taunted as a cradle to some of Zimbabwe’s unique flora and fauna in speeches and at various fora.

Simango monkey at Leopard Rock Hotel

Although firewood poachers and squatter settlements have inflicted a lot of damage hazy government relocation programs have also allowed people to open up the rainforest for agricultural purposes.

The Vumba, in spite of all its fame, is not a gazetted forest leaving it vulnerable to inattentive lumbering.

These elegant monkeys which spent their days swinging from tree to tree or just hanging around eating fruits, flowers, leaves and insects which constitutes their diet – things that are dwindling and only  a few property owners are fighting to preserve for their wellbeing.

Male Simango monkeys are larger than females. Their mass averages seven to nine kilograms while females weigh between four and five kilos.

They have long tails which are a third longer than the body. The coat of the head and the shoulders is dark grey to black. Facial skin, feet, hands and lower limbs are black. Upper limbs and flanks are paler than the shoulders. Belly and throat are a creamy white. The muzzles of males protrude to accommodate the enlarged canines.

This primate is a seasonal breeder. Females give birth during the onset of the warm, rainy season. A single young is born after a gestation period of 140 days.

They have a harem social structure – a single dominant male with his females, their infants and sub adults. The males would break out to live solitary lives or form bachelor groups until they take over a troop of their own.