Facts about the Monkeys on the Island of Saint Kitts
St. Kitts: Blessed with natural charms is the title of William Ham Bevan's article in the September 2012 issue of the British Daily Telegraph. Included in his description of the island’s flora and fauna is the following statement. “Another signature sight is the green vervet monkey – you’ll see troops of them playing in hotel gardens or lazing under palm fronds.”
StKittsMonkeys reports that vervet monkeys were first brought to the island as pets by the French during the 1600s. Other sources say that they first arrived with the West African slaves who came to work in the rum industry. Undisputed though, is the fact that some monkeys acquired a taste for alcohol and actually became drunks, by drinking the fermented juice of sugar canes left in the fields.
This article discusses their drunkenness and other facts about monkeys on the island of Saint Kitts.
Vervet Monkeys Studied for Drinking Habits
Research conducted with 1,000 vervet monkeys from Saint Kitts determined that their drinking habits were similar to the habits of humans.
- Like humans, genes influence their liking for alcohol.
- Like humans, most monkeys (social drinkers) drink in moderation.
- Fifteen percent (steady drinkers) prefer their alcohol diluted.
- Five percent (binge drinkers)—drink fast, get in fights and get drunk. This conclusion is drawn from judging their habits, not because of the amount they drink.
- Fifteen percent (teetotalers) refuse to drink alcohol, and prefer soft drinks.
- Unlike humans, monkeys which do not drink show no disrespect for those which do.
Their sneaky methods of obtaining drinks can be viewed in a BBC:Weird Nature YouTube video. Visitors to the beach bars at Turtle Beach on the island’s eastern peninsula report fun stories of seeing the drinking monkeys in action.
Monkeys Studied in Research on Stem Cells
The Biomedical Research Foundation founded by Yale Professor Eugene Redmond uses monkeys from Saint Kitts in research on stem cells or gene therapy. Some research is done on the island but monkeys are also shipped to labs in North America. Redmond sees the research as one way to help control the monkey population, but the Animal Rights Foundation (ARF) of Florida is calling on St. Kitts to ban export of the monkeys for research purposes.
ARF has posted a letter on their website with a request that readers send it to the Prime Ministers on the islands of Saint Kitts and Nevis, and to their Ministers of Tourism appealing to them to ban export of the monkeys. They favor the recommendation by the St. Kitts & Nevis Ministry of Agriculture (June 2010) to sterilize the monkeys and provide alternative feeding sites.
A January 2012 entry on SKN List stated "The Government of St. Kitts and Nevis said that while it is concerned about the threat by monkeys to farming and animal rights, the green monkey population is a unique resource to biomedical research and drug development." It estimated that there are 18,000 monkeys in Saint Kitts although it is believed that the population is much larger.
In a West Indian News Network articlepublished in January 2013, Andre Huie reported, “Monkeys continue to be a problem for farmers in St. Kitts and Nevis and there seems to be very few options or solutions to the challenge."
Vervet Monkeys Pose Threat to Natives
The monkeys live in the forest, but usually make their way into the neighborhoods to look for food, especially after the summer when the mango trees in the mountains are bare. Ripe fruit is their favorite food. They obtain it easily by quick jumps, climbs and runs through the farmer’s fields or the homemaker’s garden . They seem to eat anything: from the breadfruit and banana for which they have to climb, to cucumber and squash on the crawling vine. They also eat root vegetables.
Residents are at their wit’s end trying to protect their crops. Some locals insist that there are more monkeys than people, but one study suggests a ratio of 2:1 in favor of the residents, and another differs slightly stating 1:5 people to 1 monkey.
In neighborhoods near wooded areas, it is not unusual to see a monkey strolling on the roof, crossing the street or sitting on a fence eating a stolen banana. Some residents have devised their own method of controlling the monkey population. They serve monkey meat to their dogs, and a few older people eat it themselves.
What do you think about monkeys?
Kittitian Idioms Make References to Monkeys
Reference to the behavior of monkeys is a regular part of language on the island. For example, here are three popular idioms with their meanings:
- Monkey see, monkey do.
This statement suggests that someone did something for no other reason that he or she saw someone else doing it.
- Monkey know what tree to climb on.
This is said as a warning or threat by someone who will not tolerate provocation. That person compares himself or herself to the tree. The would-be nuisance is the monkey. The monkey must be smart enough to figure out which tree it can jump on without suffering any consequence.
- Monkey can’t carry gun.
A monkey with a gun could be dangerous. If a someone asked for a tool, a responsibility, a position or anything which he or she is not considered equipped to use effectively, this would be a way of saying that his or her request is ludicrous.
Observations from Tourists
Judith Baker who toured the island in December 2013, reports in MailOnline, "St Kitts has an Atlantic and a Caribbean coast, black sand and white sand, more monkeys than you can shake a stick at and the region’s only railroad. Get on board while you can still get a seat."
Obviously, there's more to St.Kitts than monkeys, and Judith is very kind to extend the invitation for others to come see.
Trip Advisor adds (updated 2016): "Probably the most reliable area on Nevis [sister island to St.Kitts] for visitors to see monkeys is in the grounds of Golden Rock Hotel . . . If you are lucky enough to come across the troop in a quiet place where you can sit and watch them for an hour or so, you will be amazed to see their highly organized social structure, and if you are close enough, you will hear a wide range of quiet vocalizations as they communicate with one another." Awesome!
© 2013 Dora Weithers