x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Monkeying around with a crocodile at Al Ain Zoo

A new exhibit at Al Ain Zoo replicates a real wildlife habitat, and has 18 vervet monkeys living with a Nile crocodile.

The vervet monkeys have already started teasing a Nile crocodile since being moved to the same enclosure at Al Ain Zoo.
The vervet monkeys have already started teasing a Nile crocodile since being moved to the same enclosure at Al Ain Zoo.

AL AIN // Playful little vervet monkeys have a new toy in their zoo enclosure – a 10ft Nile crocodile.

In search of fun, the monkeys swing down from their ropes and tweak the croc’s tail, before an almost imperceptible movement sends them scurrying away.

If one of the monkeys were to get close enough to the reptile’s powerful jaws, it would be in a position to observe that they contain about 65 large and very sharp teeth.

The monkey might also discover that, while it is more agile at seeking out its prey in water, even on dry land the croc can reach a surprisingly nifty 14kph in pursuit of dinner.

But by that time, of course, it could be too late.

Do the monkeys know they’re dicing with death? Oh yes, says Dr Arshad Toosy, acting director of conservation and development at Al Ain Zoo.

“They know by instinct that he is a dangerous animal, but that doesn’t mean they’re not playful.”

The five-year-old crocodile is fed a chicken once every three days, but Dr Toosy said it would attack a monkey if left hungry. So far, no close calls have been reported.

It is not unusual for the zoo to introduce a mixed-species exhibit, but this is the first time it has brought together primates and crocodiles.

The enclosure, which they share with more than a dozen turtles, replicates a real wildlife habitat, recreating what would be a common scene in eastern Africa.

It was specially constructed to give the crocodile and the monkeys space to roam.

A large pond dominates the front of the enclosure, and the crocodile spends most of his day basking in the sun.

The monkeys perch on stone ledges, leap over logs and swing from the netting draped across the top of the enclosure or on thick ropes that stretch the length of the habitat.

“We try to copy as much as we can what is in nature,” Dr Toosy said.

“We have to keep the animals busy. In the wild, they are active 24 hours a day, so their lives are very exciting and full of surprises.

“If we didn’t provide social enrichment, they would have a life of boredom.”

The vervet monkey and the Nile crocodile, neither in danger of extinction, are native to eastern and southern Africa and are common in Sudan, Somalia and Ethiopia.

jthomas@thenational.ae