In 1989, one of the soon to be founders of the Vervet Monkey Foundation was faced with an orphaned baby vervet. After going to the local authorities, he was informed of the lack of welfare facilities for these animals and that the “vermin” should be killed. The Vervet Monkey Foundation in Tzaneen, South Africa was officially founded and established in 1993 and today is a rehabilitation and rescue centre to more than 570 monkeys.
On Monday evening, the co-director of the foundation Josie Du Toit presented “The Vervet Forest” at Trier’s art-house Broadway Cinema in Trier, a documentary by film-maker and VMF volunteer Kyle Salazar. My first question for Josie was how the film ended up in Trier. It was actually thanks to Frank Adames, an animal rights activist in Trier, who learned about the VMF at the International Animal Rights Conference in Luxembourg in 2015. The following summer he decided to spend eight weeks volunteering at the foundation and two years later, here he is helping organise and run tonight’s screening.
Having watched several bleak documentaries that recycle phrases about how much we’ve messed up the planet, “The Vervet Forest” is a nice change as it is strung together with positivity. Salazar includes several interviews with local charities such as Soil for Life, a foundation which teaches people about permaculture and its affordable and practical methods in creating sustainable gardens with whatever available space there is. “Our hope for a healthy world rests on re-establishing the harmony between the earth and its people”, reads their mission statement.
What I particularly loved about the film and about the foundation is its focus on not only vervet monkeys but also on nature and the environment as a whole. Their long-term project is called “the vervet forest”, the aim of which is to establish a several hundred acre wildlife reserve by buying land in which to replant forest, “which is lush and fertile, full of indigenous flora and fauna, which can provide natural food and nourishment for the animals that inhabit the land”. In the documentary we learn that the sheer amount of deforestation in the region has lead to animals, including vervets, having to move into cities in order to find food, where they are seen as pests and subsequently shot or brutally deposed of. But this grim reality is being transformed thanks to the kind and empathetic people featured in the film.