Vervet Monkey ““ A Threat To Nevis Agriculture

Tuesday January 30 2007
Submitted by Jacqueline Armony
Sun/Stkitts Newspaper

There is no point talking about increasing agricultural production in St. Kitts and Nevis if we continue to ignore the serious monkey problem we have here ““ namely, the huge and ever increasing population of monkeys that wander the country side devastating vegetables and fruit crops wherever they go. 

Not only do these animals pose a threat to agriculture but, they are also harmful to our natural environment, destroying bird’s nests and consuming the eggs and eating the buds and young shoots of plants.

The African Vervet Monkey was brought here as pets by the French in the 17th century and escaped into the wild during the several wars that took place between the French and the English in their struggle for supremacy in the region. Early 18th century records speak of the monkey already being a pest with hunting expeditions taking place to reduce their numbers and their impact on sugar cane cultivation. 

Kittitians are known among many of their Caribbean neighbours as ‘monkey eaters’ as, indeed, the meat was an important part of the population’s protein intake well into the 20th century until frozen food outlets and supermarkets took over retailing chicken and other meat products to the average consumer. 

It appears that it was around that time that the taste for monkey meat declined significantly, many people scorning the killing and eating of the animal. 

Scientific research, using our monkeys, helped to control their numbers in the 1970s and 80s however, until foreign animal rights activists lobbied for stopping their import into the US, Europe and elsewhere. 

Interestingly, these groups have also tried to boycott St. Kitts as a tourist destination because of our attitude to the export and eating of monkey, seemingly unaware or unable to accept the impact of these animals on the environment and local food production. 

Interestingly, however, monkey stew is making a comeback as it is now often served at fund-raisers and other functions as a local delicacy.

But, the impact on the population has not been significant and even dogs seem to have given up the fight of trying to fend off monkeys from farmers’ grounds in the mountains and in the urban backyards which they have invaded.

It is true that our monkeys have become part of the landscape and culture, reference to them incorporated into the vocabulary as local parlance and proverbs.

“˜Monkey see, Monkey do!’, “The higher monkey climb, the more you see he backside”, “Monkey know what limb to jump pon”, are expressions that pepper conversations, serving to highlight our respect for their innate intelligence and guile.

St. Kitts/Nevis without monkeys is inconceivable and their images are depicted by our artistes and craft people, in tourist brochures, and they have become a tourist attraction of sorts. 

But, the fact remains that their large numbers pose a real threat to our environment and our ability to feed ourselves and, by extension, our economy.

Our efforts at agricultural diversification will go nowhere if we do not address the problem urgently.

Just as the increase in the human population can have effects on a country’s resources and its development so, too, can overpopulation by any other species of the natural world.

The fertile soils are a major resource of this country and the loss of their usefulness, whether through erosion, bad management, or for whatever other reason, must not be permitted. 

We can significantly bring down our food import bill by growing our own food and we also have the potential to export to our neighbours. 

We can do a better job in making linkages between agriculture and the tourist industry, selling more produce to the hotels and restaurants as well as to cruise ships. 

The development of agro- industry has enormous possibilities. 

But, we must be able to effectively farm our lands and reap the rewards.

The control of the monkey population is one of the major challenges facing agricultural development in St. Kitts and priority must be given to finding solutions.  

While I know of no means of “educating” them as we do people to limit the size of their families, there might be ways of introducing some sort of “˜birth control’ method. 

Targeting the alpha males, the leader of the troupe, and some of the adult females with sterilisation darts might be effective. 

Can we include them as our fore parents did on our menus?  Can we persuade the animal rights activists of the ruinous impact that monkeys are having on the livelihoods of people? 

Should we promote, through incentives, their continued and further use in medical research? 

The Ministry of Agriculture and government at the highest level must intervene, consulting with stakeholders to develop appropriate policies and actions to deal with the matter. 

We cannot afford to have existing farmers leave their land, as we see happening, because of the problem.  

Sustainable use of our fertile soils and food production is a matter of national security as it so directly hinges on the health and well-being of all citizens. 

Effectively dealing with the monkey problem will go a long way to promoting agricultural development in this country which will bring economic and nutritional benefits to the whole nation.

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