Search This Blog

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Life as a Bachelor Male

Two days ago while driving along the main road in Dargle Valley, an adult male samango monkey ran across the road in front of my vehicle then disappeared into a Bluegum plantation. It is believed that samango troops do not wander far away from the forest patches they live in, but this is not the case for the bachelor males who leave their natal troops around the age of six years.

Back in 2012, I’d carefully put together a troop of orphaned vervet monkeys that people had brought to me over the years and had released them into the indigenous forest around our home where they’d spent their early years semi-dependent on me for food and protection. While free-roaming in the forest, as an integral aspect of the rehabilitation process, they’d learned how to avoid predators and navigate conflict with competitors sharing their home range. The troop chose to remain within the borders of the property on which I lived making it relatively easy to follow their progress. At five years old, the first sub-adult male – named Kennedy – left the troop to find a new troop to move into. Two months later, he returned home, covered in deep wounds after one particularly difficult fight with the alpha male of his new group. Because so many baboons and monkeys that had been electrocuted, shot or run over by cars had been brought to me over the years, I was relieved to see Kennedy alive, albeit injured.

Vervet, baboon and samango males all leave their birth troops to find a new troop to live with around the age of sexual maturity in order to ensure genetic mixing. While single male vervets and baboons spend about two months moving into a new group, the samango male can take a few years or more navigating this fragile period. The samango monkey has a harem social system ensuring adult males mostly live alone or with another male. Small bachelor groups -  that temporarily spend time with samango troops - also exist.

Much of the danger facing the dispersing male is likely to be found in areas inhabited by humans where these males run the risk of being run over by cars, electrocuted on pylons or killed by dogs.
In the Dargle, bachelor samango males appear to be forming symbiotic relationships with vervet troops which offers them protection and social interaction.
An adult female vervet monkey forages closely to two male samangos – Dargle Valley. 

“To offset the possible negative consequences of the monkeys’ reliance on exotic seeds, including escalating conflict between monkeys and people in gardens, we suggest gradual removal of exotic plant species in the habitat and replacement with indigenous species as one mitigation strategy.” Reliance on Exotic Plants by Two Groups of Threatened Samango Monkeys – Cercopithecus mitis labiatus -  at their Southern Range Limit – Wimberger et al.

Post by Karin Saks

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Meeting Fort Nottingham's Samango Monkeys

29th August, 2017:

Fort Nottingham is a charming area based in the Midlands, Kwazulu Natal, known for its historical museum housed within an old fort, a small town hall and a nature reserve comprised of forest, grassland and wetland which is inhabited by a number of wild species.

We headed out there to meet Fort Nottingham’s samangos and were gifted with the opportunity to watch them jumping between branches, grooming each other and feeding.

Photos: Carol and Dave Brammage

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Using Trail Cameras to Capture Data



Although the samango monkey is mostly restricted to forest habitat, they are sometimes seen foraging on the ground hence using trail cameras to obtain data can be useful for understanding where they are present, behavior, troop size, other species coexisting with them in a specific area and diet.   

Above: A number of species have been captured at the same spot  

Samangos foraging on the ground at the edge of the forest

 Three adult bushbuck does, a baby and one adult bushbuck ram are regularly captured by the trail camera at the same spot. 

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Meeting the Samangos in Dargle

Trail camera footage provided by Kate Robinson. Samangos drinking from a water source a few metres in front of the indigenous forest in Dargle Valley. 

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Web of Life - Biodiversity

Irreplaceable Afromontane forests – where the threatened subspecies - Cercopithecus mitis labiatus resides, are found on moist southern slopes from the Cape to Limpopo. The forests are fragmented and vulnerable due to increased demands for forest resources, invaders and degradation. An important aspect of our ToPS species, samango monkey research is to gain more understanding of the relationship between the forest and samango monkey populations. 

Those of us in Africa are familiar with an old principle we call Ubuntu. The essence of this principle reminds us that we’re all interconnected 

Simply put, Ubuntu means: I am because you are

I was recently reminded of the web of life when coming across the copious amount of forest spider webs while the elusive samango monkeys called in the distance. 

If one strand is broken, the whole web is broken.  

I thought how principle needs to be extended to include the environment as it doesn’t apply solely to human society but is integral to the health of our planet we all rely on.  Everything that humans rely on for survival is taken from the earth. We exist as dependents on our planet, making the health of that environment crucial to our long term healthy survival.

Biodiversity is considered to be a measure of the health of all biological systems. It is the variation of taxonomic life forms that defines the health of the environment. Every species plays a role in contributing to a healthy environment – the web of life, including humans.
Over time, the variation has been dangerously reduced by one species – humans. Most of the species extinctions from 1000 AD to 2000 AD are due to human activities, in particular, plant and animal habitats. 

Factors contributing to loss of biodiversity are overpopulation, deforestation, pollution and global warming. 

How biodiversity directly affects us:

Enough biodiversity is needed to support the chains that humans rely on:
  • Food:  the variety of natural and organic plants found around the world feed animals and humans alike.

  • Beverages: the diversity of natural materials provide an abundance of ingredients for beverages.

  • Medicine. Most medicines are derived from natural ingredients, most specifically plants. Many antibiotics are also derived from living micro-organisms such as bacteria and fungi.

  • Building materials. Rubber, oil, certain types of fibres, dyes and adhesives all come from natural origins.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Secrets of the Forests

Secrets of the Forest

“......its drifting fragrance climbed up through my conscious mind as if suddenly the roots I had left behind cried out to me, the land I had lost with my childhood --- and I stopped, wounded by the wandering scent.” Pablo Neruda

The samango monkey (our research species)  being South Africa’s only exclusively forest dwelling primate shines a light on South African forests which are characterised by a highly fragmented distribution and are the countries smallest (comprising 0.1 % of the surface area - ), most fragmented and most vulnerable biome.

A day in the forest:

The following information has been sourced from SANBI (South African National Biodiversity Institute)

The Role of Trees:

Trees quite literally form the foundations of many natural systems. They help to conserve soil and water, control avalanches, prevent desertification, protect coastal areas and stabilize sand dunes.

Forests are the most important repositories of terrestrial biological biodiversity, housing up to 90 per cent of known terrestrial species.

Forest animals have a vital role in forest ecology such as pollination, seed dispersal and germination.

Trees absorb carbon dioxide and are vital carbon sinks.

It is estimated that the world’s forests store 283 Gigatonnes of carbon in their biomass alone, and that carbon stored in forest biomass, deadwood, litter and soil together is roughly 50 per cent more than the carbon in the atmosphere.

The loss of natural forests around the world contributes more to global emissions each year than the transport sector.

The Forest Biome:

Forests are restricted to frost-free areas with mean annual rainfall of more than 525mm in the winter rainfall region and more than 725 mm rainfall in the summer rainfall region. They occur from sea level to over 2100m above sea level. Forests rarely burn, mainly due to the high humidity - under extremely hot and dry (berg wind) conditions fires may occur and destroy the forest structure.
Forests tend to occur in patches, few of which cover areas greater than 1 km 2, with areas greater than this only common along the Garden Route and Lowveld Escarpment. Even added together, forests cover less than 0.01% of southern Africa's surface area, making this the smallest biome on the subcontinent.
The canopy cover of forests is continuous, comprising mostly evergreen trees, and beneath it the vegetation is multi-layered. Herbaceous plants, particularly ferns, are only common in the montane forests, whereas lianas and epiphytes are common throughout. The ground layer is almost absent due to the dense shade. On the edges of the patches are distinctive communities, the so-called fringe and ecotonal communities, which are able to tolerate fire.
Some 649 woody and 636 herbaceous plant species are recorded from forests. However, forests are not floristically uniform. Three separate forest types are recognized in this account. Specialized forests that occur in small areas and very sporadically - such as mangrove, swamp and fringe forests are not separated from these three types.
Partly because of their rarity, their grandeur and their setting, forests are an important tourist attraction in South Africa. They have been exploited in the past for valuable timber, including Black Stinkwood Ocotea bullata and Outeniqua Yellowwood Podocarpus falcatus. Some forests were removed for the establishment of exotic plantations. A major plant invader of forests is Blackwood Acacia melanoxylon.
Forest conservation has two facets: the maintenance of components and critical processes in the forests - which requires the conservation of the large mammals and birds which disperse seeds and maintain gap processes which allow succession within the forests - and the maintenance of gene flow - which requires allowing seed dispensers and poillinators to move along the corridors between forest patches. Thus the proclamation of isolated stands of forests as reserves may be insufficient for their conservation. Sustainable use of forests may require that their fauna be effectively conserved! 

Some trees that occur at our study sites are: Podocarpus falcatus – Outeniqua Yellowwood,  Podocarpus latifolius – Real Yellowwood, Podocarpus henkelii – Henkel’s Yellowwood, Xymalos Monospora -  Lemonwood , Lanthoyxlum davyii – Knobwood,  Calodendrum capense – Cape Chestnut,  Ficus craterostoma – Forest Fig,  Halleria lucida  - Tree Fuschia,  Combretum krausii – Forest Bushwillow,  Crypiocarya myrtifolia – Myrtle Quince,  Kiggelaria Africana – Wild Peach,  Celtis Africana – White Stinkwood.
Common mid-strata trees include:  Tricalysia lanceolata – Jackal-coffee, Eugenia zuluensis – Paper-bark myrtle, Rinorea augustifolia –White violet-bush, Maytenus mossambicensisi – Black forest spike-thorn, Trimeria grandifoliai – Wild mulberry,  Ochna arborea – Cape Plane.

Lianes and scandents: Dalbergia abovata – Climbing Flat-bean,  Stropanthus speciosa – Poison rope,  Buddleja Pulchella – Red climbing sage,  Scutia myrtina – Cat-thorn,  Grewia occidentalis – Cross-berry,  Rhoicisus rhomboidea – Glossy forest grape. 

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Samango Monkey – ToPS species – Diaries no. 1

When we reach the end and are comprised of nothing more than dusty primate bones, all we will leave are the memories we plant now.

What is it about primates that moves you most, an old man asked.

It isn’t primates alone I told him. Each new species encountered, with its specific behaviour, and individual flavour ensures that the experience will be - at the very least – akin to the thrill of entering a new country with a distinctly unusual cultural social structure.

Primates however, due to their special relationship with humans, have additional lessons to offer.

Armed with the above philosophy, I headed towards the first Samango Monkey site on the 26th March on a wet, cloudy day.
Soon after I’d begun walking down the muddy forest path, I heard crashing through the canopy. Familiar with the movement of monkeys, I stopped to listen, but all went frustratingly silent. Walking on, I hoped they would reveal themselves further.

"Pyow – pyow"; a hidden samango monkey called in the distance identifying the species of monkey I’d been lucky to find. Having worked with vervet monkeys and baboons in the Tstitsikamma for two decades, the elusive and threatened samango represents a thrilling opportunity to build on all I’ve learnt from the past. More importantly, further observation of this species is needed to fully understand the genetics, distribution and behavioural ecology and how this impacts on the forests they are dependent on for survival.

Although I didn’t have a telephoto lens to capture some close ups, I tried to capture some of the movement and sounds around me while the samangos moved along their foraging path, ignoring my presence. It felt strange to be with monkeys who were not fearful of having a camera pointing at them, suggesting that unlike the vervet troops I had encountered in the past, this troop thankfully knew nothing about guns.

Follow us to keep updated on our samango monkey research which we are conducting on three separate sites where this elusive species resides. 

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Maps and our Study Sites

Samangos - taken with a camera trap at Site 1 - Karkloof

Karkloof Site 2
Karkloof Site 2

Karkloof Site1

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Samango Monkeys - Two Videos From Other Areas

"Of the few species of primate in South Africa, samango monkeys are the least known. This is because samangos are limited to the canopies of mist-belt forests and these are threatened and more and more fragmented. Two researchers have recently joined forces to have a look at samangos -- one from the Soutpansberg population, the other from the Hogsback population. Their study will reveal information about the behaviour, ecology and conservation of the monkeys and may help to reveal differences between the Soutpansberg and Hogsback individuals. We speak to them about issues of genetic flow and the resultant separation of a species into subspecies. These monkeys could be more threatened than we realised."