Samango Monkey Research Project – Update, August 2018

darwin primate group, samango monkey, vervet monkey


Dispersing Samango Males – Karkloof and Dargle

23rd July, 2018

Silence saturated the air after Lizzie and I left Mbona Private Nature Reserve’s ( tranquil, indigenous forest where we’d spent a few hours deep in the forest watching samango monkeys.

Turning off Karkloof Road, onto a hazy road, in the direction of Karkloof Canopy Tours ( ), we hoped to stumble on more primate pranks.

Like alien wattle invading indigenous forest, the melody of Country Roads Take Me Home abruptly entered my thoughts as I noticed the familiar form of a lone monkey clinging to a bare branch, midway up a tree, bordering a dusty track ahead surrounded by large tracts of flat modified land.

dispmalesam 23 june18 near KCT

Dispersing male samango – Karkloof

Mindful of the vulnerable life that lone, dispersing primates endure when crossing human populated areas, where hazards like cars, electric pylons, dogs and other risks alter their path, as they sometimes learn harsh life lessons for the first time without the protection of a troop, I swung the Kia in the direction of the monkey.

Were we looking at a samango or vervet?

If the primate in question was a forest specialist, albeit one we sometimes see on the ground, the habitat seemed slightly out of synch. Once we’d approached, the partially white tail, typical of subspecies (Cercopithecus albogularis labiatus) peeked out from behind the tree trunk, identifying the monkey as a samango.

Earler that month on the 10th June, along the D17 in Dargle, we’d come across a single male samango perched on a pine branch (pictured below), staring in the direction of a poultry farm in Dargle.



Dispersing male samango – Dargle Valley

A while later, the male descended then headed along the ground towards the poultry farm before making his way back to the safety of the Pine.

Male Dispersal and Genetic Mixing

Ensuring genetic mixing when dispersing from the birth troop to a new group, male primates of certain species may find themselves forced to cross large tracts of hostile land. While bachelor samango monkeys may disperse across vast distances, samango troops don’t. Past research by Professor Mike Lawes has shown that samango troops do not move far from their forest patches hence this species has become increasingly isolated.

In light of this observation, the presence of dispersing lone males in the midlands highlights the manner in which forest fragmentation may have further affected the gene flow of samango populations.


Long Crested Eagle – a common sight along Karkloof Road

Reflecting on the potential risks the bachelor samango would come to navigate in order to reach indigenous forest, we drove on to FreeMe wildlife Rehabilitation Centre where clinic manager Kirsten Steytler kindly took off some valuable time from her busy schedule to give us a quick tour of the centre’s inestimable work crucial to the survival of injured and abandoned wildlife in our area.

Wild Primates – Why We Should Care

Sixty percent of wild primate species are heading towards extinction as a result of human influence. Samango subspecies – Cercopithecus albogularis labiatus – the focus of this project, is classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN and Endangered on the Red Data list.

Samango juvenile body

Body language – juvenile samango monkey – Carlisle Farm


Samango at Oakley Hide – Crab Apple Cottages


Tracking samango monkeys – July, 2018

The samango, being a forest specialist that occupies our smallest, most fragmented and vulnerable biome, requires more research to determine whether management and protection is needed to further preserve this species and their habitat.


Thank You!

barwnd wLK

Barend Booysen of the Dargle Conservancy shares his knowledge of

the forest on one of his guided walks

The future of the samango monkey in the Natal Midlands, lies mostly in the hands of the community as their habitat is mostly privately owned. We are indebted and grateful to the Dargle Conservancy, Carlisle Farm, Crab Apple Cottages, Lemonwood Cottages, Balgowan Conservancy, Mbona Private Nature Reserve, Karkloof Canopy Tours, The University of Kwazulu Natal and FreeMe Wildlife Rehabilitation for their kind and valuable assistance.


U.K. Volunteer and Msc student – Lizzie Francolini – observes the samangos at Oakley Hide, an extra-special forest haven at Crab Apple Cottages –

Objectives of the Samango Monkey Research Project, KZN.


Samango eating ficus – Dargle

Forest fragmentation and how it has affected samango monkey populations in the midlands forms the basis of our research.

While the long term goals of this project encompass sites in Karkloof, Fort Nottingham, Dargle and Balgowan, our short-term research over the last year has focused mainly on Balgowan and Dargle where we’ve been relying on non-invasive methods to identify the presence of samango monkeys in Balgowan and the genetic structure and levels of gene flow in samango populations in Dargle.


Dave and Lizzie collect fecal samples at Carlisle Farm

The two main methods we have relied on so far have been:

1. Collecting fecal samples that are sent to UKZN for testing of DNA and

2. Collecting data via our three trail cameras to ascertain the activity patterns of monkey troops in the area.

Information on diet ( and the mysterious vervet/samango relationship (, species richness and other behaviour has been obtained from trail camera data as well.


Samangos and vervets move from a paddock into the indigenous forest. July, 2018 – Carlisle Farm, Dargle Valley


Samango male – Carlisle Farm. May, 2018



Samango female – Dargle Valley


Listening for the familiar “Pyow” of the samango male while hiking to the Boma (below) – Carlisle Farm



Parked on the side of a dusty Balgowan road, on a heated day in May, co-worker Dave and I stared into dense bush at partially covered monkeys, unaware of the attention we had attracted. A security vehicle drove up, its occupant hesitated, remaining in the vehicle.

We looked at each other silently acknowledging the trouble we were in.

The driver emerged and approached us. He explained that a Balgowan resident had been concerned at our unusual behaviour as we’d slowly driven along the road, gazing longingly into private properties.

Monkeys”, I grinned.


Spoonbill at Milestone Forest

Thank you to the Balgowan landowners who have kindly allowed us to observe monkeys and set camera traps on their land. To the residents we have yet to meet, who have seen us wandering around searching the trees, thank you for your patience and understanding.

Forest in Balgowan

Our findings in Balgowan suggest that the forest patch we are researching is not occupied by a samango troop. We have however, had one sighting of a single male samango next to a troop of vervet monkeys and have heard male samangos calling at a vervet monkey troop’s sleeping site and from other areas in the forest on a few occasions. Furthermore, residents have reported sighting single males.


On the 8th of August, Lizzie and I met with the conservancy committee to request help from Balgowan residents to notify us of any samango monkey sightings so that we can confirm this hypothesis. Thank you to the committee for allowing us the opportunity to introduce our work.

We welcome all sightings of samango monkeys in the Kwazulu Natal midlands

Sightings of samango monkeys can be sent to:


Samango Male

Allthough the samango monkey is one of five primate species found in South Africa, few people know of their existence. Compared to the vervet monkey, the samango has a shaggy coat and is larger. The most obvious difference in subspecies (Cercopithecus albogularis labiatus) is the tail which is white for about the third at the base of the tail.


Vervet Monkey


Samango Face on the Left and Vervet Face on the Right


Another Thank You

During the last three years of my time spent in Dargle valley, an unexpected and heartening picture has emerged; while deforestation – brought about through human influence – may contribute to isolating samango populations, nature has fought back. Our research suggests that some single male samangos, forced to cross large tracts of hostile land to reach the cover of indigenous forest, are forming advantageous relationships with vervet troops – this may offer them protection, possible food sources and social interaction until they are able to find other samangos.

Thank you Vervet Monkeys!


For more information on the Samango Monkey Research Project, KZN or co-existing with vervet monkeys/baboons, contact:

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