VERVET MONKEY FOUNDATION: The Volunteer Experience
Written by Marlina Moreno
My first ever international volunteer experience was at the Vervet Monkey Foundation (VMF) in Tzaneen in the Limpopo Province of South Africa. It was also my first time ever traveling abroad alone. Needless to say, the experience was literally life-changing. I returned home and decided I was switching my career path (and life’s path for that matter) to work in some capacity, any compactly really, in the world of wildlife conservation.
I have since traveled and worked with a variety of international wildlife programs as a volunteer and as a media producer, and to this day the VMF is still one of the most well-done conservation projects I have ever experienced.
The founders, Dave and Josie, have truly done a beautiful job designing a proper conservation program centered on the three golden R’s: rescue, rehabilitation, and release. They also work closely with the community to mitigate human-wildlife conflict, educate the local population about co-existing with wildlife and have built an extremely successful volunteer program.
A number of wildlife conservation projects, especially those with a steady influx of paying volunteers, often appear to be run more like a business or tourist attraction than a project with the well-being of wildlife placed above all else. But not in this place. Its founders have done everything as close to right as I have ever seen and because of that, I have to share their story and this extraordinary volunteer opportunity.
Below is a short film I created for the VMF as a way to thank them for the inspiration they gave me and for the difference they are making in the world of wildlife conservation.
More information about the project and its volunteer opportunities can be found below. Enjoy!
In 1989 the plight of the vervet monkey species in South Africa first came to light when an orphaned baby vervet monkey, only hours old was discovered. Inquiries to recognized authorities concerning the fate of such primates revealed that there were no facilities to provide for its care and welfare, instead, they were told to kill the monkey because such animals were regarded as vermin.
As environmentalists and humanitarians, they saw that the solution to this problem did not lie in euthanasing these orphaned primates but rather, the need for an organization to provide a sanctuary for them and to holistically investigate what was, in fact, happening to this indigenous primate of South Africa.
It soon became apparent that very little was in fact known about this
species. Most of the data available at that time was negative, contradictory, incomplete and inaccurate. This void was due to its classification as vermin, and this lack of knowledge had portrayed this indigenous primate in a very poor and negative light. At that time there was also very little information pertaining to the rehabilitation of this primate species. As conservationists, they could see that the solution to this problem was not the senseless killing of these primates but the need for a program incorporating:
- A facility to research the life style and environment of this species.
- A program to rehabilitate orphaned and injured primates.
- A program to research the claims of damage and problems caused by vervet monkeys and offer possible solutions for co-existence.
- An education program to inform the public of the role that the vervet monkey plays in the eco system.
- A sanctuary for primates unfortunate enough to be unreleasable but, manageable enough to be used for educational purposes.
As a high priority they began to research the possibility of rehabilitating
these orphans and to develop a much-needed rehabilitation program and sanctuary where injured and miss-placed vervet monkeys would be humanely treated.
During the past decade the Foundation has developed a unique rehabilitation programme that has helped revolutionize the way in which primates are rehabilitated. Our enclosure designs are now utilized in similar primate projects. Fundamentally, the Foundation has saved and improved the lives of more than six hundred vervet monkeys. The foundation has also achieved many firsts in the rehabilitation of this primate species with the aid of volunteers, gap year students, and primate carers.
Volunteering at the VMF.
You will sleep in the volunteer village, work with monkeys, or on projects such as building or painting to benefit the monkeys& have time off to visit local waterfalls, rivers, or other sites of interest. At the VMF, you will get to participate in a variety of tasks depending on the time of year to help themonkeys from feeding orphaned babies to constructing new enclosures. This is an ideal project for anyone who has ever dreamed of working with primates.
The duties that you will have to undertake are varied and change during the year and all volunteers are tasked to do a variety of chores, such as, collecting & cleaning baby bottles, and making baby formula, cleaning and preparing bowls of fruit & vegetables for the monkeys, washing monkey blankets, monitoring monkeys in enclosures, working in our sickbay area, occasional cooking, washing food bowls and collecting seed pods for monkeys.
In addition, volunteers will also help with the building of new enclosures formonkeys. Construction involves building, painting, sanding, welding, fence-building, knot-tying, firebreaks & invader species eradication. Sometimes you might be asked to cut grass & prepare thatch bundles for construction, or to letter & paint signs for enclosures. Work can be hard under the African sun but it is very rewarding.
Your evenings will either be spent quietly at the village or up at the cottage where volunteers can socialize and get to know one another. You will eat vegan meals and be able to use the internet for a small donation.
Touring can be arranged through the VMF on arrival. They can organize trips with a local qualified tour guide to places such as Kruger and Graskop.
Other areas you may help with are driving, fundraising, office work, or data input. The VMF is often looking for qualified Vets and Vet nurses to volunteer help them (they typically offer free room and board in exchange for such experience).
If you’re looking to get experience in the wildlife conservation arena, the VMF really is a great opportunity to volunteer with wildlife in South Africa.
For more information about the Vervet Monkey Foundation, how you can become a VMF volunteer, and/or for other ways to support their mission visit http://www.vervet.za.org/.