February 2024

The unexpected birth

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The unexpected birth

As our summer is coming to an end, I look back at all the incredible sightings we have enjoyed watching over this summer period which happens from November to March. Many call it our birth season or rainy season, and let’s just say we have experienced both - good rains always bring new life.

Fresh new palatable grasses and new leaves on trees bring happiness to all animals after a dry and stressful winter. As a guide I have had the privilege of witnessing many births during this time of year, and this year I got to witness something that I have never heard of anyone seeing before – the birth of a vervet monkey!

I was out on an early morning game drive and our intentions were to go along the river in search of a leopard. As we approached the river we heard a few monkey distress calls, and we made our way in the direction to have a look at what was upsetting them. They have excellent eyesight so most of the time when you hear the monkeys’ alarm call it’s for a predator such as a lion, leopard, snake or bird of prey.

As we approached the area, we noticed the monkeys had all gone very quiet and were just feeding in the tree tops all looking in different directions (scouting). After siting silently for a few minutes, we noticed one monkey not far off the road, sitting in the open on the ground. Within a second, we watched her grab a newborn from under her and bring it up to her chest. She immediately started cleaning this little one’s head and tried to get it to latch onto her nipple to suckle. We sat in complete silence and awe. Within five minutes of birth the newborn had latched and was suckling, and holding on to the mother, finding its strength. Mom was now covered in blood and licking herself clean. As we were about to leave monkeys started alarming on the other side of the river, so we went and had a look but nothing to be found.

About twenty minutes later we went back to the mother and baby monkey to see their progress and when we returned they were still sitting on the ground and the mom was biting off the umbilical cord.

We all were overwhelmed with what we had just witnessed as generally monkeys hide away when giving birth, and are not out in the open. The mother regained her strength and made her way up into the tree tops with baby attached. All the other monkeys came and had a look and welcomed the new one into the family.

My tracker has been tracking for over 40 years and has never seen anything so special. It’s truly amazing knowing you have never seen it all and there will always be something new to see and witness in this environment. It’s so incredible watching new life being born and what joy it brings.

Greg Heasman
By Greg Heasman
Field Guide