The Barbados Green Monkey


Carlisle Sutton

August 16, 2023

African Green Monkeys (Chlorocebus sabaeus) also known as vervets are believed to have been introduced to the island of Barbados in the 17th century.  These monkeys are thought to have originated from the Senegal-Gambia region of Africa and are named green monkeys because of the yellow-olive green hue of the coats of the adults.

Green monkeys are omnivores.  Their diet consists mainly of fruits, flowers and vegetables but they also eat many insects, lizards, birds’ eggs and nestlings.  Much of the vegetables and fruits eaten by the monkeys are cultivated crops.  The vast consumption of these crops caused a serious economic loss to farmers which resulted in a bounty being offered for each animal from as early as 1680.  

Three green monkeys eating on a path
Monkeys eating at the Wildlife Reserve

There are approximately fourteen thousand green monkeys on the island of Barbados.  With such a large number of monkeys on the island, these animals are to be seen in every parish.  It is common to see adult females clutching their babies and juvenile animals swinging in the branches nearby.  The adult males are often seen in tree tops, surveying the terrain for danger. Green monkeys have been known to live as long as 35 years. Adult females range in weight from 3-4 kg and the adult males from 4-6 kg.

Troops of monkeys vary in number from 14 – 40 individuals.  Each troop would normally consist of an alpha male, with one or two subordinate males, adult females and their offspring. Green monkeys are territorial and will patrol the colonies territory daily in search of food while at the same time warding off any other vervet invaders.

Non human primates are the closest phylogenetic relatives to humans and play an indispensable role in biomedical research.  These animals are often the best and sometimes the only available model for studying a variety of human health issues, ranging from diseases and disorders to potential therapies and preventive strategies. Among the Non-human primates used in biomedical research, green monkeys are an important model in investigating disease conditions such as  HIV/AIDS, Diabetes, Hypertension, Obesity, neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, various cancers, Cataract, and reproductive disorders.

A juvenile green monkey at the Barbados Wildlife Reserve
A juvenile green monkey

It is estimated that as much as 80% of the oral vaccines used by the World Health Organization (WHO) in the Polio Eradication Programme was produced and tested using green monkeys from Barbados.  The WHO is seeking to have polio effectively eradicated, becoming the second disease to be successfully eradicated by a global vaccination programme.

Large numbers of green monkeys are also to be found on the islands of St. Kitts-Nevis and the Cape Verde Islands. African greens are also still to be found in Senegal-Gambia regions of Africa.

So the next time you see a green monkey, remember, they too play a critical role in improving the quality of life for all of us.

Things to do

From swimming with sea turtles, partying under the stars, exploring the rugged east coast to enjoying the island’s duty free shopping, Barbados has something for everyone.

The Barbados Green Monkey