The early morning alarm call of the vervet monkey. Everyone who has been on safari knows it, and if you don’t, it’s the first alarm call you learn and remember. As you gently amble through the bushveld, no matter where you are, the excitement rushes through your body at the sound of the alarm call of a vervet monkey. In fact, one of the greatest pieces of advice I received as a young guide was, “Marco, stop driving around so much, just stop the vehicle and listen for a few minutes, the bush will tell you where the leopard is”. It’s an age-old battle between predator and prey, and the leopard is seldom on the winning side. Many a hunt has been spoiled by the unruly racket of the vervet monkey. I am almost certain I have seen the sense of utter disappointment on the face of a leopard when they are but metres from their quarry and at the last minute are spotted by the ever vigilant monkey, who scream their disapproval of the presence of this cat. And with that, every other nearby mammal knows to be aware of a lurking predator. But why does this little, nimble and light-footed monkey that so effortlessly glides through the trees seem to be so fearful of this spotted feline. Well, it’s because they should be.
Out on game drive on Chief’s Island in the Okavango Delta, Botswana, we had literally not been out of camp for more than 5 minutes when deep in the bush the sound of sheer panic erupted. Vervet monkeys were alarming like never before. We thought it may have been that they had at that very moment spotted a very nearby leopard, so we rushed through to get to the site. Quickly our guide spotted a young female high up in an Apple Leaf tree, at least 10m up and very near to the canopy. Vervet monkeys in nearby trees were alarming like crazy. We soon realised why. On an isolated branch in the same cluster of trees that the leopard was moving through was a lone young vervet monkey. The chase was on. After some classic cat and mouse chasing, with the leopard running down one tree and up another to find the monkey had safely jumped to the very spot the leopard had started, this agile young leopard decided to pick up her game. In an incredible display of strength, agility and balance she bolted up the tree and jumped an almost impossible distance between trees, hurtled up the last flimsy branches and had its claws on the terrified monkey before it knew what was happening. It’s hard to believe it without seeing it, so check out this video clip of the whole scene as it unfolded. Unbelievable dexterity of an apex predator in action.