Vervet (Chlorocebus pygerythrus)

Also known as: vervet monkey
Synonyms: Cercopithecus aethiops pygerythrus, Cercopithecus pygerythrus, Chlorocebus aethiops pygerythrus
KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassMammalia
OrderPrimates
FamilyCercopithecidae
GenusChlorocebus (1)
SizeHead-body length: 35 - 66 cm (2)
Tail length: 42 - 72 cm (2)
Weight2.5 - 9 kg (2)

The vervet is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1) and listed on Appendix II of CITES (3).

One of the characteristic primates of the African savanna, the vervet is a medium-sized monkey with greyish to yellowish- or reddish-green fur, and a black face framed by white cheeks, long, white whiskers, and a white band across the forehead (2) (4) (5) (6). The upperparts are rather grizzled in appearance, and the underparts and inner sides of the limbs are whitish, with a reddish patch beneath the base of the tail. The ears, hands, feet and tip of the tail are black (4) (5) (6). The male vervet is slightly larger than the female, and has brightly coloured genitals (2) (4) (5) (6), while the young are born with a dark coat and pink facial skin (4), which gradually turns black during the first few months (7). The vervet was previously regarded as a subspecies of the grivet, Chlorocebus aethiops, but is now considered a full species by most authors (1) (2) (8). Five subspecies of vervet are generally recognised (1), which vary in colouration (6).

The vervet is widespread across southern and eastern Africa, from Ethiopia (east of the Rift Valley) and southern Somalia in the north, through eastern Africa (west as far as Angola), and south to South Africa (1) (2) (5) (8). It is also found on the islands of Pemba and Mafia, Tanzania, and the Manda Islands, in the Lamu Archipelago of northern Kenya (1).

The vervet is a highly adaptable species and occupies a variety of habitats, including savanna, open woodland, and forest edges, although it is generally absent from desert and thick forest (1) (2) (5) (9). It is also able to use areas of secondary growth, as well as highly fragmented vegetation, including cultivation and more urban environments (1) (2). The vervet never strays far from water (8), and is often found in riverine woodland (1) (2) (4) (6).

Considered intermediate in form between the more arboreal guenons and the terrestrial patas monkey (Erythrocebus patas), the vervet readily runs and forages on the ground, and is a good swimmer, but also depends on trees for food, sleeping sites and shelter from danger. This species is mainly active by day, and feeds on a wide range of items, including fruit, seeds, buds, leaves, roots and grasses, as well as insects, crustaceans, birds’ eggs and chicks, and other small vertebrates, such as lizards (2) (4) (5) (6) (8). The vervet will also bite into and chew trees such as acacias, to feed on the sap (4).

Vervet groups usually range in size up to about 38 individuals (1) (6), and include several adult males (1) (2) (4). Within the group there is a clear dominance hierarchy, and activities such as grooming help maintain group cohesion (4) (5) (6) (9). A female’s social rank usually determines the rank of her offspring (4). The female vervet usually gives birth annually, to a single young, or rarely twins, after a gestation period of around 5.5 months (2) (4) (5) (6). In any given vervet population, there is typically a peak of births that coincides with the season when resources are most available (2) (4). The young vervet is weaned by about 8.5 months (2), and females reach maturity at around 2.5 to 4 years, remaining within the group for life, while young males reach maturity after about 5 years, and then leave to join another group (2) (4) (6). Lifespan may be up to 30 years (2) (7).

The vocal communication of the vervet has been the subject of many studies. The species is vulnerable to a range of predators, including leopards, eagles and snakes (6) (7), and has been found to produce different alarm calls in response to different types of predator, with each call producing a distinct response. For example, the group will respond to a ‘leopard’ alarm call by running into the trees, and to an ‘eagle’ alarm call by looking up (10). Studies have so far identified at least 36 distinct calls (2) (4), and the vervet has also been shown to be able to identify other individuals by their calls (4).

The vervet currently remains a widespread and abundant species, and is not thought to be facing any major threats (1). It appears to adapt quite well to human activity (2), and is often regarded as an agricultural pest, and is shot as vermin (1) (4) (6). In some areas, the species is hunted as bushmeat (1).

International trade in the vervet is controlled under its listing on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) (3), and the species is also listed on Class B of the African Convention on the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, which means that it should only be captured or killed with special authorisation (11). The vervet is also present in many protected areas across its range. The IUCN have recommended that further work is required to investigate the validity of the proposed subspecies (1).

To find out more about the conservation of this and other primates see:

To find out more about conservation in Africa see:

Authenticated (13/12/09) by Matthew Richardson, primatologist and author.

  1. IUCN Red List (September, 2009)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org/
  2. Nowak, R.M. (1991) Walker’s Mammals of the World. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London.
  3. CITES (September, 2009)
    http://www.cites.org/
  4. Estes, R.D. (1992) The Behavior Guide To African Mammals: Including Hoofed Mammals, Carnivores, Primates. University of California Press, Berkeley, California.
  5. Alden, P.C., Estes, R.D., Schlitter, D. and McBride, B. (1996) Collins Guide to African Wildlife. HarperCollins Publishers, London.
  6. Skinner, J.D. and Chimimba, C.T. (2005) The Mammals of the Southern African Subregion. Third Edition. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
  7. Vervet Monkey Foundation (September, 2009)
    http://www.enviro.co.za/
  8. Macdonald, D.W. (2006) The Encyclopedia of Mammals. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  9. Fleagle, J.G. (1999) Primate Adaptation and Evolution. Second Edition. Academic Press, New York.
  10. Seyfarth, R.M., Cheney, D.L. and Marler, P. (1980) Vervet monkey alarm calls: semantic communication in a free-ranging primate. Animal Behaviour, 28(4): 1070 - 1094.
  11. African Convention on the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (September, 2009)
    http://www.africa-union.org/root/au/Documents/Treaties/Text/Convention_Nature%20&%20Natural_Resources.pdf