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It's hard to battle cute monkeys

They may win, but we don't lose.

By Kate Chambers / December 14, 2010

Vervet monkeys in Kruger National Park, South Africa.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff/File

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"They are not cute," my husband insists.

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We are sitting on our veranda, watching the vervet monkeys snatch naka fruit from the date palm tree. The monkeys chew each stringy yellow naka for a second or two and then fling it to the grass.

Their mothers, it seems, did not teach them not to litter. Or, come to think of it, not to steal.

"Just look at their ears," I tell my husband. "They have the most amazing ears. You've got to admit it."

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These monkeys have miniature human ears. They're neatly pinned back to the sides of their heads, gray to match their coats. If nothing else, the monkey mothers have a sense of style.

In the four years we've spent in this cottage on the eastern edge of Zimbabwe, we have waged a constant battle – my husband, son, and I – against our resident troop of monkeys.

They have stolen our mangoes. They have repeatedly ravaged our avocado crop, taking a bite out of each not-quite-ripe-enough (so not-yet-picked-by-us) green globe and then discarding it on the lawn.

They have crept up to our lone grenadilla creeper and cherry-picked the fruit I'd planned to turn into juice. One Christmas, they ate a whole lychee crop in one night.

Don't ask about the bananas.

I say "our troop," but I should say "troops" because there are at least two monkey factions vying for total control of our withered lawn. Sometimes, in the dead of night, they indulge in noisy turf battles by the bougainvillea, sending our cats scuttling onto the veranda.

We have tried nearly everything. Nets over the fruit (they break them). Shoes (they try to throw them back). Water pistols (my 6-year-old's idea: the monkeys find it mildly amusing). Adopting a fully grown dog to chase them (she finds it more dignified to sit and watch).

My mother-in-law, a former farmer's wife, brought us a small firecracker once. We spent a good half-hour herding pets and child into the house before throwing it to the side of the troop. The monkeys scattered with gratifying haste. Bingo, we thought.

But when I looked outside five minutes later, they were back again, munching the sticky quincelike fruit from that tree we haven't managed to identify yet. Our garden must be a monkey's paradise.

This year, we had plans to spray our avocados with chili pepper sauce. Camping aficionados had told us stories of putting chili around their tents to deter elephants. We reasoned: If it works for elephants, why not for monkeys?

We encountered several problems. One was how to get the spray to adhere to the sleek and slippery skins of unripe avocados. My son offered to inject the fruit with the mixture. I prefer to mix my guacamole in a bowl rather than pick it straight from the tree, so I politely declined. By then, we had to concede that our monkeys had developed a taste for Cheeky Chili Sauce (Super Hot).

So I hereby announce that we have officially Given Up. Against my upbringing, all those times I was told: "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again," we are finally letting the monkeys win the garden wars.

(OK, so we have planted some strawberries in a geranium pot directly outside the kitchen door in the vague hope we might harvest a few before the monkeys do. But I assure you that is the sum of our anti-­monkey efforts.)

As I type now, six or seven monkeys are watching me, poised on their hind legs like meerkats. They wait for my eyes to turn back to my laptop screen before stretching out tiny black hands to grab first one naka, then another. A monkey mummy crouches by the veranda, a baby clinging to her fluffy tum.

If I stretched out my toes, I could almost touch them.

Maybe I will look back one day with a sense of marvel to the time in my life when monkeys played just a few feet away from mine.

This year we have avocados enough and to spare. And you know what? I never really liked nakas.

Actually, I quite like monkeys. Just don't tell my husband.

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