Vervet monkey identified as possible breeding female

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By Elesha George

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Experts have identified a monkey sighted in the Willoughby Bay area as a healthy female adult Vervet.

The animal was discovered by a group of hikers traversing the trail at the old Bridgetown ruins on the morning of Sunday, September 5, 2021.

The primate which has a grey and white hair-like coat, a black face and a long tail, is similar to those found on St Kitts & Nevis and Barbados.

Ian Joseph led the Sa’da hiking group of Bethesda that Sunday. They began their journey at the historic tamarind tree in Bethesda and were walking towards the Crossroads Rehabilitation Centre, trying to find the ruins of Bridgetown.

He said the group had stopped for a moment because they noticed that one of the buildings there was being restored.

It was when they were heading back that Joseph looked back and spotted something strange in the bushes.

“I was the first one who looked back and said, look there’s a monkey,” he recalled, adding “it wasn’t scared of us but it was just making sure that it stayed at a distance so that we couldn’t get to it.”

He said the monkey seemed curious, and looked to be wondering what they were doing there.

Adult Vervet monkey spotted during a hike through the old Bridgetown ruins on the coast of Willoughby Bay (photo credit: Kyle Simon)

“It was amazing, everybody was so shocked,” said Jasline, another hiker.

Jasline, like the others, thought Joseph was joking and told Observer when she finally caught a glimpse of the monkey she began to question jokingly whether it was real monkey or a spirit.

Kyle Simon was able to capture a clear photo of the animal sitting on a branch and told Observer he was not surprised to see the creature as he had heard reports of monkey sightings in the past.

There have been several sightings of monkeys on Antigua throughout the years but they’ve never been a welcome sight – at least to those who know the threat they pose to the economy.

This monkey is of particular concern as its body showed signs that it may be pregnant.

Ricaldo Pike, the veterinarian for the St Kitts Biomedical Research Foundation, believes that the animal could be pregnant based on its protruding belly.

He did say, however, that bloating could also be the reason for the size of the animal’s belly, noting that this happens when monkeys do not have constant food and are foraging.

“Pregnancy is uncertain. I would have to see more features to determine whether it is pregnant,” he said.

Since monkeys are not endemic to Antigua and Barbuda, Pike believes that it was carried over from St Kitts Nevis or even Barbados – the only two islands where he knows the primate to be present. 

Meanwhile, local Veterinarian and Vice President and Veterinary Advisor of the Antigua and Barbuda Humane Society, Dr Radcliffe Robins isn’t monkeying around, and said that it’s not good news to have these creatures breeding in the wild.

Since the animal is not endemic to Antigua & Barbuda its presence poses a threat to the country’s agricultural and tourism sectors.

“We here in Antigua and Barbuda, we do not have a forested environment which will provide for these animals and so as a result they end up being a pest to our agriculture and a significant one also. You eventually have on your hand an intelligent thief and an intelligent destructor of things that are being prepared for human beings,” he explained.

These primates will compete for fruits and vegetables on farms, if they are allowed to reproduce.

“The one that is in St Kitts & Nevis is now also impacting the tourist industry where they stick around the bars, the hotels, the drink spots, and steal drinks. They become intoxicated – videos to make you laugh are made of this – but this is nothing funny,” Dr Robins added.

The doctor is concerned that the monkey will become an invasive species, adding to the list of invasive animals that already exists on the island to include the Giant African Snail, fire ants and the Cuban Tree Frog.

“They are very difficult to trap because they are clever. If they get caught in a trap, they see another one getting caught in a trap, then they avoid it, so it is not easy to eradicate them once they become established,” he said.

Dr Robins noted that it is the irresponsible decisions of individuals who bring these animals into the country which eventually led to these problems.

Arica Hill, Executive Director of the Environmental Awareness Group confirmed that experts have previously reported seeing monkeys on Antigua not far too away from Sunday’s sighting.

“I don’t know that anybody has been tracking their population so that’s to me, probably where the concern lies,” she noted.

Hill does not believe that the animal poses a direct threat to human security but said the question would be how its presence will affect the country’s biodiversity and the agricultural sector.

“They eat everything. They eat well and so, if not managed, we can expect to see declines in some of our own population,” she said.

Observer was unable to speak on record with officials from the various ministries who have projects dedicated to research on invasive species.

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