Volunteer at Bambelela Monkey Rehabilitation Centre

Recently, I decided to explore the rehabilitation programs available in South Africa for introducing Baboons and Vervet Monkeys back into the wild. I found myself at the Bambelela Monkey Rehab Centre in the Limpopo Province.

This baboon put on his best weekend face after I disrupted his afternoon nap by passing by.

Bambelela in Zulu means to "hold on", and Silke from Germany has dedicated her life and savings to the conservation of these baboons and vervet monkeys in South Africa. The program is reliant on volunteers from around the world who are passionate about giving monkeys that have been abused and orphaned a second chance at life. It is incredibly sad to see how many monkey's they house that have been victims of the Illegal pet trade {Animals that have been captured by shooting the mothers}.

One of the "wild" vervet monkeys that have been released back into the wild, but found its way back to Bambelela, and stayed there ever since. Monkeys are territorial, so once they are released into an area they tend to stay in that area.

It is estimated that there are only 250 000 vervet monkeys left in South Africa, and could possibly be one of the next species to face extinction. They are currently having a huge problem with habitat loss, and are being squeezed into smaller and smaller areas, so although there are so few left, they are still common to see in certain environments.

Boys will be boys! No comment!

Vervet monkeys in Afrikaans is known as the "blouaap" for the blue colour in their skins and of cause their genitals like this guy here.


Meet "Katilyn", an 11month old vervet that loves her belly rubs.

"Freddie" has a lot of love to give by giving me kisses for days! Freddie's mother was shot by a farmer and as result found himself orphaned at Bambelela.

Newborn monkeys are hand reared and get fed milk every 15 - 18 minutes by the volunteers. Once they weigh 1Kg and have received their Tetanus vaccine they are released into the Kindergarten where they can begin interacting with other monkeys.

Met "Puk" in the Kindergarten. This guy had me in hysterics with his very animated facial expressions.


Currently Bambela has 400 monkeys that are in captivity waiting to be rehabilitated. Monkeys are grouped into troops, usually between 35 - 40 and kept in the main rehabilitation camp for a period of 3 years to develop skills that will help them survive in the wild.

Rehabilitation is not a simple progress. Bambelela does a site visit to ensure that there is adequate vegetation in the area as well as scouting for other troops that these can be incorporated into which will help with the integration of the males in particular. They will then get a permit from Nature Conservation and once they have these permits they have 30 days to release the monkeys. Two weeks prior to the release, a team of professionals will go to the site to build them a temporary cage which will be their home for the first 7 - 10 days so that they can get used to the area and familiarise themselves new sites and smells, Like humans, monkeys don't like change to quickly, so they ensure that the new conditions is similar to what they are used to. Once this is ready they start with the release preparations.

Early morning their caretaker removes all food and inserts a trap cage with food into their cage. Because monkeys can't be darted and relocated this is the only option available during the process. Once done, these monkeys get vaccinated against Tetanus for the last time. The care taker then lives with the troop in their new environment for 40 days to 3 months monitoring them ensuring they make an easy transition.

Their food is still substituted during their first year, especially during the dry season but a lot of the food is left as they prefer to eat what is available to them naturally. Every release is different, previously releases that they did the caretaker lived.

The average release of a troop will cost anything from R35 000 and includes food for the monkeys, payment to caregivers and Tetanus vaccinations amongst other things.

These monkeys are in the last stadge of rehabilitation, and will be released soon. I think they were excited to see me!

"Kingsley" was horribly abused. Someone gave him a banana with a fire cracker in and it exploded in his mouth burning away half of his lips. He i slightly brain damaged as a result and will forever long remain in captivity. The team at Bambelela did an amazing job at looking after him through his recovery processes.


Volunteer Programs are available from R3000 per week which includes your food and accommodation.

If you would like to consider volunteering here, it is advisable to book directly with Bambelela as agents usually take 40 - 60% of the monies, Booking through Bambelela directly ensures that your money spent goes to the benefit of these animals.

These monkeys are just so lovable. "Scooby" giving Dean a kiss.

Baboons are not kept in cages, and Bambelela encourages them to remain in their nature habit. They usually wonder off during the day, but come back to feed in the afternoons.

Jamie showing Dean signs of affection.


Day trips are available when booking in advance and cost on average R130 for a 2 hour tour with a monkey interaction. Monkey interactions are only available from July - November. If you would like to book you can do so by emailing info@bambelela.org.za with the subject line ‘Day Tour’ or by telephoning +27 (0) 14 736 4090. You will then receive a gate code, and will be able to enter Leopard Rock Estate where you can access the rehab centre.

Images and content by: Chantelle Flores



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