Patas Monkey Hanky Panky
Do animals fall in love? Have you ever wondered? Well, I have.
By Iris Hunt
This is a story that starts several years ago when a Patas Monkey came to lodge with us at the Mount Kenya Animal Orphanage.
They’re very rare in Kenya but there is still a small colony of them spread out on the large cattle Ranches just north of Nanyuki, You can sometimes see them sitting on fence posts by the side of the road as if they’re watching the cars go by or were waiting for a bus.
Actually it is usually the dominant male of the troupe who is doing the fence sitting ministerially surveying the scene while the rest of the monkeys forage around in the morning sun. The big fellow is watching out for any signs of imminent danger to his family from Cheetahs, Hunting Dogs, or maybe Hyenas, although they are less likely to be around during the day.
Even a Jackal could be a menace, sneaking up to snatch a baby playing in the tall grass. From the above, danger lurks from the great raptors who can spot a baby monkey from hundreds of feet in the sky. Should a youngster wander too far from the troupe the elegant predator will launch a lightening fast swoop and in full flight, sink its powerful talons into the hapless monkey and swoop it away.
The bird is well clear of the rest of the Patas Monkey group by the time they are squawking alarm and rushing to the baby’s aid. They are left milling about, screaming and chattering in both fear and rage.
But more often than not, the patriarchal “look out” on guard will see or sense a threatening presence and let out a shrill warning call that sends the babies scampering back to their mothers. Most of the troupe will then flee in unison, bolting up to the high canopy of the nearest tree. Any youngsters, too small or slow to keep up will try to hide belly down in the tall grass. They will not make a sound or move until they get the “all clear” call from the more experienced elders.
Patas, as most primates, are omnivorous. They eat leaves, roots, seeds and fruits, but will also feed on insects, eggs, small lizards, and birds they steal from the nests. All these things are plentiful on the savannah lined by acacia woodlands. The monkeys will indulge themselves all day, only retreating at nightfall to sleep in the safety of the trees.
As wilderness areas shrink and human habitat increases, the monkeys also adapt. Farms or plantations are powerful attractions to them and once hooked on the plentiful supply of “easy pickings”, a troupe can seldom be persuaded to leave. A farmer may lose his entire crop to troupes of monkeys demanding their “rightful share.”
In desperation the farmer may resort to chasing the “pests” away, but rarely with lasting effect. In the end he may set traps, hoping the cries from trapped victims will send the rest packing off back to the wild where they belong.
That is how it happened that Ms. Patas arrived at the Animal Orphanage…
She had been trapped by a farmer, and the Wildlife Department concluded that to release this single female long after her troupe had left would be to condemn her to certain death. Without her extended family around her, she would have no protection and would inevitably fall prey to some predator or other in no time at all.
Poor Ms. Patas was a sad site, all alone in her new home. But as luck would have not for too long. A few months later another Patas was brought into the Orphanage – an adolescent male in a small cage, who had been someone’s “pet”. He’d outgrown his “cute” appeal for the owner, or so we were told, and obviously human habituated as he was would have no chance sent back on his own into the wild.
Ms. Patas thus had a prospective boyfriend. We first introduced them in adjoining enclosures and they soon struck up a friendly acquaintance. Relieved of loneliness they soon found ways of touching each other through the wire mesh.
After a while, of course – for the purpose of furthering romance – we let them get together opening just a small section of the fence so there was an optional retreat for either one should it transpire that nature had not intended them for each other.
We continued to feed them separately to avoid any domestic squabbles over “material matters”.
But the male monkey would have none of it. Raised in a human family without a primate for a role model, he could not know his new position of alpha male entitled him to the best bits of food first. On the contrary, , he would gather up as much food as he could carry in his arms and walk upright through the hole in the fence and present the bounty to impress Ms Patas. She in turn played coy, bashfully ignoring his gallantry.
But things between them progressed nonetheless. Eventually they were into mutual fur grooming, which became soothing of a ritual to the evident satisfaction of the young male in particular. He’d make the opening moves, stroking and petting her a little, and then, once she responded, lay back and let her do all the grooming work…
If she minded being thus “taken advantage of,” she didn’t show it.
Soon the two of them were “cohabiting” in the one boma. It was Ms. Patas who was clearly in charge of the affair, making positive advances, a signal that was never lost on the male.
One morning some six months later we saw the female holding something close to her chest. It turned out to be a tiny new Patas Monkey, the most endearing, ugliest little scrap of a thing you could imagine. “Dad” was very proud and protective, especially when the baby had a camera lens pointed at her. He would immediately move in front of it and obscure the view.
No more long grooming sessions for him for a while – his mate had her hands full.
Mr. Patas however remained solicitous and affectionate and less than one year later another little “Red Hussar” made its appearance. We named the pair Hanky and Panky.
They’re still playing together as I write, happily watched over by the proud parents.
Mr. and Mrs. Patas, it seems, have settled down to regular family life. “Mr.” no longer brings “Mrs.” any food, it is now routinely shared “conjugally”.
The males’ demands for grooming are getting more frequent and sessions are longer dutifully obliged by his mate. In turn he is playing his role as family protector more aggressively these days, showing his fearsome canines in a “threat-yawn display whenever we enter his territory to clean up.
He invariably does it when I want to take a picture of his handsome lordly self, obviously considering the camera some kind of potential danger. He could of course knock it out of my hand with one swipe if he wanted to get serious, but he has never actually had a go at the apparatus or me for real.
As Hanky and Panky grew less dependent on their mother, she became “broody” again and, in due course, produced a third addition to the family. A wrinkled little infant Patas soon grew into a scruffy looking carrot top, drawing a somewhat startled exclamation at the sight of him from an early visitor. “Zoff” was the spontaneously eloquent expression – and the name stuck.
Zoff was an independent little monkey from the start, wandering away from close maternal oversight much earlier than his siblings had done. They, in fact, have so far ignored their youngest sibling. He may have to wait for the next delivery from the parents before he gets a playmate. Mr. Patas is very mature now, still cutting an imposing figure. But Mrs. P. is showing signs of middle age.
As for the aloof seemingly superior Hanky and Panky… they’re growing fast.
Their faces are more expressive than that of any other species of monkeys I have known. They clearly use a full range of facial expressions as signals indicating intentions or emotions. These are instantly “understood” by other family members who normally react without a sound. They know each other very well indeed.
As a displaced family, living in “closed” quarters our little troupe has shown tremendous adaptability quite clearly content with the Orphanage environment.
For me they are an endless opportunity for study and learning about Patas behavioral traits and inter personal relationships.
But as for love among the monkeys?
Well, I have wondered. There is certainly something long and lasting between Mr. & Mrs. Patas, Hanky Panky and Zoff.
But who knows what, exactly? Perhaps time will tell and we will certainly keep you informed of the future of our delightful family of “Red Hussars”.
Note: A recent study has shown that the numbers of Patas Monkeys in our area are sufficiently low to put them at risk of local extinction. It could be, therefore, that our small expanding group at the Orphanage will, at some point become an important nucleus “reserve” for the future preservation of the species.