Monkey-Mom Single mom loses everything due to lockdown, starts volunteering as a "monkey-mom" and - Umsizi Vervet Monkey Rescue Animal Sanctuary
Photo Cred: Unprecedented Pictures | Umsizi Vervet Monkey Rescue Animal Sanctuary

A single mom who lost everything due to COVID-19 and the subsequent lockdown, started volunteering as a “monkey-mom” and has found her passion along the way!


South Africa (07 July) – Deborah Patten used to be a single mom… but now she is known as a monkey-mom!

Patten was unemployed for the three months due to the COVID-19 lockdown but found a new passion… looking after abandoned baby vervet monkeys! The single mother was employed as an operations manager for a small tour operator in St Lucia but on the 25th of March, was retrenched.

“I lost everything. I lost the flat I was staying in. Fortunately, a compassionate guesthouse owner let me come stay in one of the rooms. I spent nearly two months there, helping where I could, studying and frantically looking for a job. I was hoping to be able to return to my kids in Cape Town but the advertising industry where I had the experience, wasn’t hiring.”

Patten was now living off her small savings; she had just used most of them to help her daughter pay for her college funds.

“I was naturally extremely stressed. Then I saw an advert for the position of Monkey Mom in Limpopo. It was crazy, but I was drawn to it. My CA son was horrified that I was taking a volunteer job without pay. But I couldn’t resist. The foundation was struggling as no volunteers were able to come and help and desperately needed hands-on help.”

She applied to be a monkey-mom and to her surprise was accepted. Patten had to give away most of her belongings as she could only take one suitcase on the flight.

“I decided to give up my temporary luxury home and start volunteering immediately as there are so few staff at the moment.”

The 55-year old office worker, who was used to living in a 4-star guesthouse now living in a hut, no electricity, pit loos and open showers. Patten also went from a Big Mac and ice cream lover to full vegan.

“It’s cold, extremely physical – I walk around 12 km a day now – and you have to keep your eye out for the wild troop, snakes and scorpions. But I am loving it. But, as I said, no pay. I would love to do this long term, currently on 3-month probation.”

The Vervet Monkey Foundation does amazing work looking after sick, injured or abandoned monkeys. The baby season normally starts around October and involves 24-hour care of orphans and then finding a foster mom and integrating them back into a troop. Little ones require feeding every 2 hours.

“There is lots to do… last years babies that are now in troops still need their milk bottles three times a day which involves a lot of cleaning, preparing and delivering all over the property. I am also helping out with tasks like “section duty” which involves walking around all the enclosures checking on water bowls and handing out treats like Acacia seed pods and green leaves to those monkeys who are in cages alongside the enclosures awaiting integration into a troop (also three times a day). Then there is plate preparation, washing, enrichment treats, monitoring etc. We are kept busy from 7 am till 6 pm.”

Happily, Patten now has the opportunity to work in a volunteer role at a sanctuary for monkeys. A dream role, assisting with the care of injured or abandoned babies and helping them grow and adapt to be released back into the wild, but she will not be paid.

“I have committed to 15 months working there. Very scary for a lady of my age to be without out a salary for so long. But, how could I ignore these adorable creatures and not want to make a difference in their lives?”

Patten has started a crowdfunding campaign to earn some money while volunteering.

“I would be so grateful if you could assist me. I would love to be able to keep volunteering here if I can get a little financial assistance.” 

To help the Monkey-Mom in any way, please visit the crowdfunding page by clicking here.

Sources: Deborah Patten | Monkey-Mom 
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Recognised as one of the Mail and Guardian’s Top 200 Young South African’s as well as a Primedia LeadSA Hero, Brent is a change maker, thought leader, radio host, foodie, vlogger, writer and all round good guy.

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