Vervet Monkey (Chlorocebus aethiops)
Vervet Monkey

Vervet monkeys are the only species at Monkeyland to swim in the dam. Swimming is a rare behaviour for a nonhuman primate!

Physical Description: Vervet monkeys have a greyish-brown coat with white on their stomachs and on the undersides of their arms and legs. Their faces are black with white skin around their eyes and on their eyelids. Males have brightly coloured genitals. The scrotum is blue and the penis is red. Vervet males and females are very different in size. Males range from 420 mm – 600 mm in height and 3.9 kg – 8 kg in weight. Females are smaller, measuring 300 mm – 495 mm and weighing around 3.4 kg – 5.3 kg.

Vervet monkeys are found in sub-Saharan Africa in 39 countries ranging from Angola to Zimbabwe and including South Africa. Field studies on vervet monkeys have been conducted extensively in Kenya. Vervets are quadrupedal and semi-terrestrial/semi-arboreal. Vervet monkeys can live in almost any area with water and sleeping trees available. They are found in a variety of habitats including humid rainforests, semi-desert environments and even swamps.

Vervets are omnivores and will eat basically anything! They have cheek pouches like hamsters for storing food. Their diet includes such things as leaves, fungi, nuts and small vertebrates. Their favourite types of foods are fruit and flowers, which are seasonal. At the Monkeyland feeding platforms they are particularly fond of corn, sweet potatoes, cucumbers and guavas. In some areas vervet monkeys are seen as pests because they are very good at stealing crops.

Life History:
Gestation in the vervet monkey is 165 days. Slightly over half of all infant vervets born in the wild die, either from poor nutrition or predation. When vervets are first born, they are all black in colour with pink faces. By 3 months of age, they will be grayish-brown like adults and only their faces will be black. Infants spend 90% of these first 3 months within 2 m of their mother. Later on siblings and other females will help care for the infant. Infants may be weaned by 3 months. They may also continue to nurse, even at 2 years of age, if their mother does not have another infant to care for. By the time the infant is 1 year old, they spend only 10% of their time with their mother. The range of vervet monkeys and the distance travelled per day varies across geographical region, season and resource availability. Vervets are preyed upon by large cats like cheetahs and lions and also other primates such as baboons and humans as well as jackals and raptors. The lifespan for vervets in the wild is unknown because of high predation at field study sites. In captivity health begins to decline around 12 years of age.

Associations: No known associations.

Vervet Monkey Social Structure:
Vervet monkeys live in mutli-male/multi-female groups of 7 to 76 individuals. The average group size is 25. Females remain in the group they were born into and have a dominance hierarchy based on matriline (female ancestry; mothers, daughters, sisters). This means that the daughter of a high-ranking female will automatically be high-ranking and the daughter of a low-ranking female will automatically be low-ranking. Unlike females, males leave their natal group when they become sexually mature. When they leave their group for the first time, they often partner up with another male or join a group where they have a relative to facilitate their transfer. When they change groups again after this initial transfer, they move on their own and pick a group with no family relations. They will change groups many times over their lifetime and usually do so during the mating season. Within males there is also a dominance hierarchy which is determined by age and by interactions and fighting with the other males. The top male is called the alpha male. The alpha male has access to the high-ranking females. A single male is dominant over a single female, but when females form a group, they dominate individual males.

Territorial Marking:
Territoriality in vervet monkeys is facultative, which means it varies depending on the condition. Factors that affect territoriality include habitat, season, the number of predators, the number of vervets, and the number of resources. For example, when resources can be easily found within a small area or when resources are seasonal, the group will defend a territory by chasing other groups away. However when resources are broadly distributed, vervets are not territorial. Energy is spent foraging rather than protecting a large area.

Communicative behaviours have been well documented in wild vervets. Vervet monkeys have distinctive alarm calls for certain types of predators. For example, vervet monkeys will run for the trees after a leopard alarm call but look to the air and hide in thick brush when the eagle alarm call is given. If they hear the snake alarm call, vervets will look about in the grass to locate the predator and mob it as a group. It takes some time to learn about these alarm calls and make the appropriate response. Young vervets often make errors. Vervets in the West Indies have also been observed to use silent visual signals to alert other vervets to a predator (usually a dog or human). The group will appoint one male to keep guard during foraging. If a predator is seen, the “guard” will take cover which is the group’s cue to hide as well. One other interesting form of visual communication is the “splaylegged red, white and blue display” used by males. Males will expose their genitalia to warn males from other troops and also to display dominance over males in their own troop.

Vervet monkeys mate during a specific time period of the year. The mating season varies somewhat with geographic location but is roughly April – June in wild African vervets. This allows for infants to be born after the rainy season when more food is typically available. Females are sexually mature at the age of 4 and begin producing offspring about a year later. Females give birth every 1 to 2 years. They cycle every 32.5 days and menstruate like women. Cycles are regular during the breeding season and usually irregular the rest of the year. Males are sexually mature at the age of 5 but are more likely to mate when they are a bit older and fully-grown.

Other Behaviour: Both older brothers and older sisters defend their younger siblings. Like other primates, vervet monkeys sleep in trees at night. They prefer trees in wooded areas that are around 7-8 m in height.

Vervet monkeys are classified as Lower Risk/least concern by the IUCN due to their wide range. Numbers are declining however. International trade of vervets is regulated by CITES. Ghana is the only vervet range country that has not signed CITES. Ghana nevertheless tries to limit how many vervets are exported or killed. Vervets are killed in some regions for the bushmeat trade. They are also popularly kept as pets. In South Africa, infant vervets can sell for R500 to R1500. Very quickly however, owners come to realize that their “pet” is highly destructive and the vervet is abandoned, sold or killed. For wild vervets the situation is just as dismal. Vervet monkeys unfortunately do well living around agriculture and urban areas. When the natural areas where wild vervets normally find food disappear due to growing human populations, these versatile monkeys manage to survive by stealing food from people in agricultural or urban areas. For this reason, they are commonly viewed as pests and killed after they raid crops and dustbins. Currently vervet monkeys can be killed without a permit and by any means in South Africa. Vervet monkeys are also frequently used in biomedical research worldwide. They are often in blood pressure studies as they naturally develop high blood pressure. In addition, SIV (simian immunodeficiency virus) has been found in wild vervet populations, making the vervet monkey the subject of many HIV/AIDS studies. The Vervet Monkey Foundation in the Letaba District protects and rehabilitates vervet monkeys and you can find out more about their work at There are a number of other organisations which support vervet conservation worldwide that can be found on the web. Please consider supporting a primate conservation organisation of your choice.

Did You Know? Vervet monkeys are the most prevalent African monkey. There are at least 6 species of vervet monkeys. This multiplicity has prompted the recent reclassification of the various species. Vervets were formerly classified in the genus Ceropithecus but are now grouped under the genus Chlorocebus.


Butynski, T. & Members of the Primate Specialist Group 2000. Cercopithecus aethiops.
In: IUCN 2006. 2006 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Downloaded on 16 July 2006.

Cawthon Lang, KA. 2006 January 9. Primate Factsheets: Vervet (Chlorocebus) Taxonomy, Morphology, & Ecology. <>. Accessed 2006 July 24.

Cawthon Lang, KA. 2006 January 9. Primate Factsheets: Vervet (Chlorocebus) Behavior. <>. Accessed 2006 July 24.

Cawthon Lang, KA. 2006 January 9. Primate Factsheets: Vervet (Chlorocebus) Conservation. <>. Accessed 2006 July 24.

van Rooyen, L. 2004 November 27. When breeding season becomes killing season. <> Accessed 2006 December 29.

Wikipedia contributors. 2006 Nov 7. Vervet Monkey. <> Accessed 2006 December 29. Information supplied by:
Lara Mostert