I spent a month volunteering in Kenya. Throughout that time, Vervet Monkeys (Chlorocebus pygerythrus) would regularly surprise me in inopportune moments. Walking to the bathroom, above my hut while I napped, and while in the shower (which were outdoors). Now it was my time to surprise them.
One early morning I followed a troop of vervets across the canopy. As they congregated in a small clearing, I sat in the brush and waited for my chance. After a few minutes, a lodge worker came sauntering down the hill with a wheelbarrow. The monkeys scattered up into the trees and waited. The wheelbarrow was filled with leftover breakfast scraps—papaya skin, mango nuts, and coconut shells—that were promptly dumped into the compost. After the worker left, the monkeys anxiously took turns scampering into the recently dumped compost for a snack. The resulting photographs are of the troop feeding and being shocked by my presence.
Vervet Monkeys are found across East and South Africa and have been used extensively as a model organism for human genetic and social research. Vervets have additionally been introduced to a number of states in the U.S. and islands in the Caribbean. They are opportunistic and extremely intelligent omnivores that are often viewed as a pest no different from a pigeon or rat. In fact, there are reports of vervet monkeys in Kenya sexually harassing women, attacking tourists, and even shutting down the power grid.
Human food sources are actually changing the way they behave. Research suggests that because human food is typically more nutrient-rich, a monkey can meet their energy demands more quickly and spend more time lazing about—sounds familiar, huh? And without a need to forage as intensively, these vervet troops have a much smaller range. This dependence on humans leads the normally cautious monkeys to be far more comfortable around you—unless, of course, you sneak up on them while they are eating!