Please note that a primate in this document refers to non-human primates.
The Riverside Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre's definition of Primate Rehabilitation refers to the ecological restoration of orphaned, endemic to South Africa, primate infant/s and/or domesticated pet/s and/or the healing of injured primates to a state of self support in the shortest possible time, and the successful return to its native habitat, of groups or individuals with a short-term disability or long-term rehabilitation. Successful release of wildlife means the animal must be able to function as a wild animal in its natural habitat. This includes the ability to recognize and find appropriate foods, socialize and reproduce with members of its own species, and exhibit normal behaviours such as fear of humans and predator avoidance.
Knowledge and Skills
It is of utmost importance prior to any attempt being made to take in, or to accept, any wildlife (irrespective of its condition) for rehabilitation, that the rehabilitator is equipped and qualified with all the necessary knowledge and skills relating to the specific species. This doesn't mean that the casualty on hand should not receive first aid treatment, or at least some comfort, prior to being referred to the proper centre dealing with the specific species.
Dealing with injured, orphaned wildlife often allows human emotions to run high and can result in a very negative impact on the case - often resulting in death. All injured or orphaned wildlife casualties should be referred to the nearest professional, established, certified rehabilitation centre immediately.
Riverside WRC's Primate Rehabilitation Process
Step 1 - Intake:
Any animal that arrives at Riverside Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre is immediately evaluated and an intake form is filled out by the party bringing the animal to the Centre and staff members. The form details where the animal came from, why it came to be in the person's possession, any injuries sustained by the animal and any medical treatment received, what the animal has been eating if anything, etc. This form will remain in the permanent record of that animal.
Step 2 - Processing and Quarantine:
All incoming animals are placed under a 40 day quarantine. The quarantine period gives care-takers enough time to detect any possible illnesses or other problems, and treat accordingly. During this time, all animals will be "processed". Processing includes taking the weight and measurements of the animal, performing a TB test, giving de-worming and other prophylactic medication, and checking for any notable identifying characteristics or past injuries.
Step 3 - Introduction:
Once the quarantine period is over and the animal has been given a clean bill of health, he or she will be moved to an introduction enclosure. Each semi-wild camp contains an adjoining introduction enclosure. Animals will be sedated before being introduced to the other inhabitants. This gives the established group the opportunity to smell and explore the new member without facing any defensive behaviour, greatly reducing the risk of injury. The established members will touch, taste, smell and get a general sense of the new member and grow bored of the intruder and go about their business as the new addition awakens. Once awake, meeting no conflict, the new addition is free to explore its new surroundings.
Animals will spend several weeks in an introduction enclosure becoming accustomed to the electrified barrier fencing, and interacting socially with members of the main troop through the safety of a barrier fence.
Once the introduction group is ready to be integrated into the main troop, staff members will be there to observe from within and outside of the enclosure and ensure that there are no serious conflicts. Primates can inflict serious bite wounds and injuries are not uncommon during this time. The intro door will be opened and the two groups will be free to greet each other while being carefully monitored. The intro group may enter and exit the safety and comfort of their familiar enclosure as they please, and will return and be closed back in at night. Once members of the intro group stop returning to the intro enclosure for safety, the door will remain closed and the introduction is complete.
Step 4 - Semi Wild:
Riverside makes use of natural vegetive enclosures in which the animals are conditioned to be returned to the wild. Most of the animals in Riverside's care will spend the majority of their stay at Riverside in a semi-wild enclosure with other members of their species. This is the troop they will be released with.
Semi-wild enclosures contain up to 8 hectares (80,000m²) of natural South African bushveld. Within the enclosures reside endemic plant species and natural terrain for the animals. It is here where the majority of the rehabilitation happens. The monkeys are able to test the limits of their instinctive survival skills - climbing and foraging, hunting for insects, and rearing offspring. Food is supplemented, but throughout the year the animals are able to forage and browse for foods of their natural diet. These plants also serve a medicinal purpose, as these primates are able to treat various ailments such as parasites and diarrhea with natural flora.
Semi-wild enclosures are left uncovered by a roof, but are surrounded by non-lethal electrified wire. The wire not only keeps animals under rehabilitation inside their enclosures, but serves a far more important purpose: once these animals are pshychologically conditioned to associate a barrier fence with an unpleasant shock, they are less likely to cross over game fences into farms and hunting reserves, likely saving them from human conflict.
Step 5 - Reintroduction:
To prepare for release, a temporary, 50m x 50m (monkeys) and 75m x 75m (baboons) electrified semi-wild enclosure is erected in a carefully planned location within the release site. The animals within the semi-wild rehabilitation enclosure are captured, identified, processed for the final time, and relocated to the release enclosure.
The animals are given 2 weeks (still electric powered) and 2 weeks with electric wires switched off to acclimate to their new surroundings within the release enclosure. After the initial 2 week period, since the animals will not go over the fence even if it is switched off, a tree-bridge is erected from inside to outside of the enclosure. When the animals are ready they will eventually explore the bridge and climb over, making them finally, officially free.
Release troops will be monitored from a safe distance for several months to ensure they are thriving in their new surroundings. During this time immense amounts of data are collected regarding the behaviour of the troop and the surrounding wildlife.
Primates are highly gregarious, and infants are deeply dependant on familial bonds to grow into healthy, well-adjusted adults. Orphaned monkeys need the stabilizing and comforting influence of adult figures. This is difficult to simulate in a captive setting with adult members of their own species, as ensuring the infants' dietary needs are met can be tricky. Infant baboons and Vervet monkeys nurse until roughly age six months to one year, and it is unlikely if not impossible for other females to provide this nourishment within a captive troop.
Therefore, some human intervention is required. Until roughly one year of age, Riverside's infant Vervets and baboons are hand-reared and closely monitored by staff and volunteers.
Infants spend their days with their peer group and groups of volunteers. They are encouraged to socialize with their peers as much as possible, with human care-takers acting as "baby sitters" and providing for their immediate needs. As infants mature, they become more independent and confident, and rely less and less on the company of human care-takers, and are more interested in their peer group. At this stage, the babies will spend more time with their fellow troop members in a nursery enclosure and less time with human care-takers. Volunteers will continue to spend several hours a day with the group of youngsters, and will take them for walks to and from the river where the babies can enjoy a peaceful, natural setting and are able to hone their foraging and climbing skills, while also learning how to move cohesively as a troop.
Once it is no longer necessary for the babies to have milk, they will be integrated into a juvenile group, which is nearly hands-off. While they will still be fed by volunteers, they will not be able to rely on human care-takers for conflict resolution and will have to learn to solve issues within their peer group without interference.
These juvenile groups will enter an introduction group together and finish the rehabilitation process the same as all other animals admitted.