The Fear of Monkeys - The Best E-Zine on the Web for Politically Conscious WritingThe Vervet Monkey - Issue Forty-Three
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Vervet Monkey  from Christiano Artuso The Vervet Monkey is native to much of Southern and East Africa, being found from Ethiopia, Somalia and extreme southern South Sudan, to South Africa. They inhabit savanna, riverine woodland, coastal forest, and mountains up to 4000 m. They are adaptable and able to persist in secondary and/or highly fragmented vegetation, including cultivated areas, and sometimes are found living in both rural and urban environments. They eat a primarily herbivorous diet, and live mostly on wild fruits, flowers, leaves, seeds, and seed pods. They may also take advantage of bean, pea, young tobacco, vegetable, fruit, and grain crops and animals such as grasshoppers, termites or eggs and chicks. They have black faces and grey body hair color, ranging in body length from about 40 cm for females who weigh between 3.4 and 5.3 kg, to about 50 cm for males who average a weight of 5.5 kg. The species exhibits sexual dimorphism; the males are larger in weight and body length and may be recognized by a turquoise-blue scrotum. When males reach sexual maturity, they move to a neighboring group while females remain in their groups throughout life. Separate dominance hierarchies are found for each sex. Male hierarchies are determined by age, tenure in the group, fighting abilities, and allies, while female hierarchies are dependent on maternal social status. A large proportion of interactions occurs between individuals that are similarly ranked and closely related. Between unrelated individuals, female competition exists for grooming members of high-ranking families, presumably to gain more access to resources. These observations suggest individual recognition is possible and enables discrimination of genetic relatedness and social status. Interactions between different groups are variable, ranging from highly aggressive to friendly. Furthermore, individuals seem to be able to recognise cross-group vocalisations, and identify from and to which monkey each call is intended, even if the call is made by a subadult male, which is likely to transfer groups. This suggests the members within a group are actively monitoring the activity of other groups, including the movement of individuals within a group. In addition to behavioral research on natural populations, vervet monkeys serve as a nonhuman primate model for understanding genetic and social behaviors of humans. They have been noted for having human-like characteristics, such as hypertension, anxiety, and social and dependent alcohol use. Interestingly, a juvenile scream elicits a reaction from all mothers, yet the juvenile's own mother has a shorter latency in looking in the direction of the scream, as well as an increased duration in her look. Further, mothers have been observed to help their offspring in conflict, yet rarely aid other juveniles. Other mothers evidently can determine to which mother the offspring belongs. Individuals have been observed to look towards the mother whose offspring is creating the scream which suggests a theory of mind. In groups of vervet monkeys, infants are the target of a tremendous amount of attention. Days after an infant is born, every member of the group inspects the infant at least once by touching or sniffing. While all group members participate in infant caretaking, juvenile females that cannot yet menstruate are responsible for the majority of allomothering. Spiteful actions are extremely rare in the animal kingdom. Often, an indirect benefit is gained by the individual acting 'spitefully', or by a close relative of that individual. Vervet monkeys have been observed to destroy a competitor's food source rather than consume or steal it themselves. While energy is being lost on destroying the food, an advantage is obtained by the individual due to an increase in competitive gain. Although according to the IUCN its conversation status is of "least concern," they are used for biomedical research, and many people living in close proximity to vervet colonies see them as pests, as they steal their food.


The Hunt


Ben Gilbert

Hunters like to kill. It's important to them.

That's a given, whatever the reasons, the justifications. And high velocity rifles, telescopic sights, dogs and drones make the task so much easier.

It's in our blood, they cry, culture and tradition; or, these animals are dangerous, invasive species, we're doing mankind a charitable service; no, it's conservation, another says, without hunting no one would preserve the forests.

For others, it's all about the money: meat, tusks, absurd medicine, tracking and trophies.

'Will you be joining us?'

It's a large hunting party, perhaps a dozen men and half a dozen women: brothers, uncles, half-aunts and cousins quite removed. They are a tough bunch, gnarly and rough, with faces so sun-beaten and lined that an artist could sketch them for days. But I'm not an artist, I'm someone's guest, and I'm in their world of pick-up trucks and shotguns, Sunday church and alcohol. Difference won't be tolerated.

I'm being stared at, expected to answer with a yes. I lie, but my story is ad hoc, not rehearsed; they may look like rednecks but they're far from stupid. So I say, rather awkwardly, that I don't like to talk about it, it's the guns you see, when I was in Syria, just south of Damascus, it all kicked off, everyone one was shooting, so many sides, and so many grudges. Me? I was just working, had to hide, lay low as the bullets flew and the casualties mounted. Nerves shot to pieces, I get the jitters, best not risk a breakdown.

Having just confessed to being the wimpy kid in front of this scary looking bunch, I get not a shred of sympathy. But it does get me off the hook, somewhat.

As dust from the pick-ups settles and the sounds of excited dogs disappears down the track, my host, my boss, turns to me and says:

'What kind of baloney was that? Have you ever been to Syria?'

She knows I lied.

'No, never, what was I supposed to say, that I find the whole thing disgusting.'

'Point taken, suppose we should go to work as you've just turned down a long drunken weekend in the mountains.'

At least she's laughing as we drive away from her family cabin. Already on thin ice, I refrain from asking how members of the hunting party are related or why they look all very much alike.

I don't believe she's disappointed in my lack of bloodlust; however, I do feel the need to redeem myself after such a pathetic show. I tell a story about my father, drink and a long weekend, hunting in the woods: traumatised and discharged from the army, he and a group of friends drove upstate New York to the Catskill Mountains where they had planned to spend some time in a dilapidated cabin, trying their luck at shooting duck. However, their real mission was to drink themselves completely senseless. He and others sat in the back of a pick-up truck, an old fashioned type with a wooden back. On a bend, the truck slid on the road's loose gravel, the driver lost control and the truck flipped over. Everyone was thrown clear, but my dad's head got caught between the wooden edge of the pick-up and the road. Stranded in an isolated spot with no public phone box, they eventually found a village doctor. Having no anaesthetic, the doctor gave him a bottle of whisky to numb the pain, as he crudely put fifty stitches into my father's broken head. Becoming increasingly irrational, prone to outbursts and inexplicable foul moods, my mother reasoned that he probably suffered from a brain injury. Occasionally, he would down a quart of whiskey and sit at the kitchen table rubbing a hand over the ridges of the large horseshoe-shaped scar that circled the top of his close cropped skull, mumbling, perhaps lamenting and mourning, remembering some great and distant loss.

This time it's the truth, but it has nothing to do with my aversion to the hunt. For me, it's just wrong.

Turning, she gives me a sad look. My ploy has worked, but it also makes me feel a cheat.

I admire the landscape, steep valleys and craggy tops, and the endless green of leafy trees. Her house is at the bottom of a valley, right above a wide and shallow stream, its cold water cascading over small smoothed boulders. On a still day like this, pleasantly warm without a breeze, it's serene.

The car doors slam shut and for a moment we just stand, listening to the soft sounds of moving water and the distant songs of birds. The nearest house is over the hill and a forty-minute drive away. Self sufficient, she has built an office and a studio on a platform above the stream. She heads for this and I go to the house to change. Not wanting to join the hunt herself, she had asked me, rather sheepishly, to go instead, and I, like a fool, had actually dressed for the weekend trip, deluding myself it could somehow all work out. I'm still embarrassed as I change out of her brother's hunting attire into my casual clothes. It's just work, stop trying to impress. Be yourself, I tell myself. Yes, it's work and although my boss looks like the rest of her bizarre family clan, I can't keep my eyes off her.

I'm just an occasional assistant to her brilliant artwork talent, and force myself to get a grip on my foolish sentiment. Managing, the work goes well and the welcome evening downtime, agreeable. We spend the weekend mostly working in the studio, returning to the house to eat and sleep. She does not let me cook or near the kitchen, which is just as well as I would be a culinary disgrace. We stroll in the woods as the sun goes down, listening to the gurgle of the stream. It's work, I tell myself again.

On Monday morning, my serenity ends abruptly. The loud ring of the old fashioned house phone tears through the tranquil air. It's the first time I've heard it, it's an awful noise and my boss takes an age to answer. She never seems to hurry anything.

The call finishes. Still holding the receiver to her ear, she turns towards me, concerned.

'My brother's missing in the mountains, they had a row, he stormed off yesterday evening, ranting that he needs to shoot a bear.'

That sounds normal to me: drink, guns and family. What's the problem? She's still holding the phone, staring at me. Suddenly uncomfortable, I say the first thing that comes to mind.

'Is he drunk, dangerous?'

'I'm surprised he can even walk, that they even made the call.'

She's still staring and I'm at a loss at what to say.

'Can you go look for him? I need to finish the work.'

'Me? What about the police, rescue services? Why can't the others go?'

'They're drunk, angry, and beside, most of them don't have gun licences, they'll get fined, maybe arrested. Please.'

It's the please that gets me.

I'm back in hunting attire, being driven past the family cabin, up a gravel road that becomes a grassy track until it ends by a group of boulders where the pick-ups are parked.

'Where is everyone? ' I ask.

She points up hill. 'There's another cabin, probably there, maybe out, I don't know.'

Perplexed, I gaze out of the open passenger window. In the distance I hear the faint bark of a dog. I turn towards her, but she avoids my eyes. Pale and drawn, a tear runs down her cheek.

'Your brother...?' I start to ask naively. She quickly cuts me off.

'He's horrible, but he's my brother, go that way.' She's pointing straight ahead this time.

She thrusts a mobile at me and I get out. Not looking at me but straight ahead, she's lost in a world I know nothing about. I do as I am asked and walk where she had pointed, with no clue of what I am supposed to do.

With no path to follow, I wander, meandering around dense undergrowth and trunks of old tall trees. The air is fresh and a subtle breeze softly sways the leaves above my head. Aware of a steep drop to my left, I follow its course, along an incline, but, in a daze, slowly lose my bearings. Exhausted, I stop and peer ahead. Flickering through the leaves, the low sun becomes a beacon. Heading towards the sunlight, I'm completely lost.

The trees unexpectedly end and a vast vista opens up before me: I'm on the edge of a huge precipice and few feet away from stepping over the edge. I stop and steady myself. As if waking up from a deep sleep, I become aware of my surroundings, my senses, heartbeat, and realise I have been walking for many hours without any real semblance of where I am or what I'm doing. Gazing out across the valley, the sun sitting in a cloudless sky above hazy hills and shadowed forest, I remember her brother. Why not her or send the others, instead of sending me? I feel ridiculous, set up in some way I can't explain and want to flee.

I hear something like a cough and I carefully move along the stony cliff edge.

'Who's there,' a gravelly voice shouts out.

I don't answer and before long I come across a man lying by the cliff edge, a rifle in his hand. It's pointing straight at me.

'Oh, it's you. Did they send you to find me, the kid who's scared of guns and noise?'

I nod, not knowing what to say or do.

'My leg's bust, can't move. Is she there?'

I don't answer and he gets annoyed.

'The bear, is she there?'

I look around, see nothing, take a step towards the trees and there she is, standing upright with two small cubs. The mother black bear growls at me.

'Make some noise, get her closer, I need to shoot the bitch and her two little runts.'

The mother bear is angry, moves a little nearer, the cubs close by her side.

Lying on his back, awkwardly twisting around, the brother tries to take aim.

'I can't get the shot, make some noise, you worthless shit.'

He's almost ready to squeeze the trigger and I tread on the barrel of the gun, forcing it down. Furious, he yanks it free and brings it up again. This time the barrel's pointing on me.

It's hard to say if it was deliberate, but I push again, this time on his broken leg. There's an agonising scream as he rolls away, disappearing over the edge. It seems forever before I hear the thud and the sound of rolling stones as he falls again; then another thud and silence. I turn back towards the bear but she's gone.

The leaves still sway and the sun still sits above the distant hills. At my feet the loaded rifle lies, half way out across the edge.

Can I live with that? I don't know, and spend half an hour wandering around until I return and see the rifle once again. I don't need a story, there was just a rifle lying on the ground. The phone is useless, full of numbers that I don't recognise and besides, the signal's out. Emergency calls only the screen reads. So that's what I ring and I sit and wait, blank, devoid of thought.

It must be an hour before the helicopter flies overhead. It comes low and someone gives a wave. It's another two before police and rescue arrive. As I say, there's no story to be told, just a rifle lying on the ground.

Two days later, after a lot of dull police paperwork and family coming round, we sit on the grassy bank looking at the stream.

We haven't spoken much, we both have secrets to conceal.

But then she speaks.

'What happened on the bluff?'

I don't answer, just look at her tanned and lined, weather beaten face.

'The autopsy found him loaded full of alcohol, could have slipped or reeled over. He was always so careful. That bluff was his favourite spot, lying there waiting for a kill?'

She's still staring and I'm still looking. I can't tell the truth, not now, maybe never.

'I didn't,' I say nonchalantly, trying to shrug it off.

'No.' She turns away for a moment and gazes at the stream. Looking back at me, there's ferocity in her eyes, but her tone is soft.

'I wouldn't care if you had, in fact...'

Stopping mid sentence, she knows I'm lying. There's nothing ad hoc with what comes next.

'Will you stay?'

I can live with that.

Ben Gilbert is founder of TheBlueSpace Adventure Guides Co-operative and Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society. He has published four books with Garuda Books and appears in numerous US literary journals. Living in the United Kingdom he presently runs cross country ski expeditions in the Scandinavian Arctic and writes short stories he likes to think are on the edge and a bit literary.


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