The search is underway for a one-armed vervet monkey, appropriately named Una, and her 6- to 8-week old infant who have been missing from their home at the Dania Beach Vervet Project for a week.
The project’s director, Dr. Missy Williams, fears foul play could be involved and supporters are offering a $1,500 reward for the safe return of the mother and baby.
“It’s heartbreaking,” said Williams, who founded the facility six years ago. Located on 12 acres, the facility has about 40 monkeys that live in four social groups.
Young vervet monkeys are sometimes sold on the exotic animal market while adults are kept for breeding, Williams said. One vervet from Dania was trapped by poachers last summer and one female disappeared in November.
And in March, Williams got a report of a person trying to use a net to capture one of the Dania monkeys on the side of the highway.
“It happens,” Williams said, “and that sort of makes me think, sadly, that’s what happened to her.”
Williams said if the vervets are sick or injured they might hide for a few days but eventually they return. But Una never showed signs of illness.
“For female vervets, they don’t leave the social group so it’d be highly unlikely for her to leave the group to go find another one, so that’s what really leads us think something is seriously wrong,” Williams said.
Una, who weighs about 12 pounds, arrived at the facility with a severely wounded right arm, Williams said.
“Her bones on her arm were exposed and her hand was necrotic,” Williams said. “And she would just lick it every day and eventually it fell off so it was like a self-amputation process. It healed nicely. We were really surprised she didn’t die of some sort of systemic infection.”
Then Una became pregnant.
“We thought that would be really interesting to see how well she would do with those challenges but she adapted wonderfully,” Williams said. “She climbed well, she’s a great mom. She still manages to keep up with the group so it really hasn’t slowed her down at all. It’s quite remarkable.
“She’s a tough cookie.”
Vervets are native to West Africa. Williams said her doctoral studies showed they could go extinct in about 50 years.
Williams hopes whoever took Una — if that’s what happened — returns her to their facility.
“That would be ideal,” Williams said, “if they got wind of the fact that we do know that one of the animals is missing and we are looking for it and there’s a reward out for the information that would bring the monkey back.”
By the way, Una’s baby hasn’t yet been named. They had planned on having an outreach event at LauderAle Brewery and figured it would be fun to have people vote on baby names.
“That’s kind of gone out the window,” Williams said.