Monkey thunder rolls around often in this leafy enclave: the resident troupe of vervet monkeys scamper loudly across the corrugated iron roof, usually somewhere around dawn. Raucous monkey chatter, the shaking of branches, the swishing of leaves, and the clattering of pods and seeds onto the roof are all part of the simian dawn chorus.
These black-faced, bright-eyed, astonishingly agile cousins are beguiling and they seem to have a sense of humour. They tease the dogs, eat all the fruit from the trees in the garden (actually, they don’t eat it – they usually take one bite and discard the rest), and occasionally sneak into the house to steal from the fruit bowl. Despite their fruit-destroying habits, they are completely accepted as part of the local ecosystem. My friend woke one morning to see a monkey sauntering casually across her bedroom floor.
Yesterday, tragedy struck. As I returned from an early morning walk up the long driveway in search of a cell phone signal with which to download emails, one of the big dogs trotted across the path in front of me with what looked like a monkey swinging limply from her mouth. She gently put it in her bed, as if it were a puppy.
When we investigated we saw that it was a dead baby vervet. There were no obvious signs of injuries and we came to the conclusion that the dogs had not killed him/her. My friend, who has cohabited with these monkeys for many years, says that they are highly strung and that she has seen a monkey literally drop dead from fright. We hoped that its death had been swift. When my friend’s gardener arrived and saw the little corpse he said ‘It is just like a human being’.
The monkey was buried near the graves of other deceased animals, one of which was a monkey that had been placed in the ground some years ago in the presence of a seven-year-old child. Watching the burial, she asked, ‘So does God live under the ground?’
Last week a starling became trapped in the fireplace chimney, its frantic flapping prompting us to move the heavy wood burner, dismantle the flue as far as we could, override fear of heights to ascend the steeply pitched roof to remove the chimney cover, and use every lesson learned in basic animal communication workshops (thank you, Anna Breytenbach) to send telepathic pictures to the hapless bird: ‘fly up towards the light’.
The bird’s mother/father/partner was nearby, sending starling signals that we hoped corresponded with ours. For a while there was a conversation between the bird in the chimney and the concerned relative hovering outside. This poignant exchange made us redouble our efforts to let the bird in the chimney know that there were escape routes. Something worked, because some time later there was silence and we could see all the way up the chimney to the clear blue sky above, no sign of a frantic bird.
Life lived close to nature – heartbreaking, hair-raising, and endlessly fascinating.