Blyde escarpment home to endangered primates

By Melissa Wray At Blyde Escarpment

The Drakensberg escarpment that is shared by Limpopo and Mpumalanga is a stunning mountain range which has many unique features and an amazing diversity of both plant and animal life. It is also exceptional in that it is host to all of South Africa's primate species. The rugged cliffs and lush vegetation are home to the lesser and the greater bush baby, the chacma baboon, the vervet monkey and the much less common samango monkey.

The samango monkey (Cercopithecus mitis) is also known as the blue or Sykes monkey. This is somewhat confusing as the Afrikaans name for the vervet monkey translates as 'blue monkey', but in fact the samango is a different species. The name samango derives from the Zulu iNsimango. It has a much smaller distribution in South Africa than the vervet, usually only occurring in localised patches, most of which are close to the coast. The samango monkey is only found in forests, of which there are relatively few in South Africa.

The loss of many indigenous forests means that the samango monkey is now an endangered species. This means that sighting a samango monkey in the inland population that occurs on the Blyde River escarpment is something of a special event. The monkey has a very distinctive patch of hair over its eyes, and has a generally thicker and darker coat than a vervet monkey. It avoids the sunlight and spends most of its time in the canopy of evergreen forests. They mostly eat fruit (with a special fondness for figs), leaves, insects, caterpillars and flowers.

They have a fairly small home range for a monkey, and this is believed to be because of the way they feed. They live in troops with a single male presiding over a harem of females. When feeding they spread widely apart. The females usually produce only one infant, which they are in constant contact with for its first month of life. Babies are more commonly born in warm, wet months. One of the most characteristic features of this monkey, other than its facial hair, is its booming call. This very loud and distinctive sound is not easily forgotten, and confirms that samango monkeys are present rather than vervet monkeys. Another population of samango monkeys occurs in the indigenous forests in the Magoebaskloof region.

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