Vervet monkey “witch” burned to death in South Africa

Thursday, 2 June, 2011
Cape Town, South Africa
Following the burning to death of a vervet monkey suspected of being a “witch” in Johannesburg, South Africa last week, animal welfare groups have appealed to authorities to pay greater attention to the plight of wildlife persecuted because they are thought to be linked to witchcraft, or targeted for use in traditional medicine.

The killing of the monkey made headlines on newspapers and news websites throughout South Africa yesterday, attracting a barrage of angry comments from readers as well as the attention of the international media.

Cora Bailey, of Community Led Animal Welfare (CLAW) and companion animal advisor for International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW –, was called to rescue the monkey by a concerned local resident after local police officials did not respond to his call for help.

“Tragically by the time we arrived the monkey had been taken from the tree, beaten and hacked with garden forks and machetes and then set alight – burned alive by the mob and in front of young children. The mob said they believed the monkey was a witch,” said Bailey.

Bailey then set about calming the mob and telling them why the monkey was harmless, how it had probably just wandered into the township because its habitat was being destroyed, or that it had been separated from its troop.

She explained that displays of such violence were damaging to the psyche of young people, and fuelled patterns of brutality and crime. The message resonated with the mob and as they calmed, one after the other said they were sorry for what had happened and would never be deliberately cruel to an animal again.

“Sadly what happened last week is not rare. On the day we were asked to help catch the monkey, we received a further two separate calls reporting vervets on the loose – we couldn’t find either of those monkeys and hope they escaped to avoid similar torment to that of the first,” said Bailey. “In January CLAW’s intervention narrowly saved the life of another vervet which was found in a tree in a schoolyard and which, if it hadn’t been for a sturdy fence to keep back a mob, would also have been killed.”

Vervet monkeys are just one species of animal in South Africa that the superstitious link to witchcraft and can be terribly persecuted when they are found in human settlements – others include owls, chameleons, frogs, snakes and baboons. Other animals such as tortoises and vultures are caught and sometimes killed in the wild for use in traditional medicine.

“We need our leaders and the custodians of our wildlife to engage with the community at large to make sure that linking animals to outdated superstitions is stopped, and to tell people that the use of wild animals for traditional medicine also has no place in a modern society,” said Bailey.

“Of equal concern is the cruelty that is meted out to these animals. The links between exposing youngsters to acts of cruelty to animals, manifesting much later in violent human to human acts is well documented. South Africa already suffers the scourge of violent crime and high levels of abuse towards children and women, so we really need to be encouraging a culture of kindness and compassion.”

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