JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — Animal welfare groups in South Africa have condemned the “barbaric” killing of a vervet monkey by a mob of township residents who said it was a talking witch.
The monkey was beaten, pelted with stones, shot at and then doused with gas and burned to death in Kagiso near Johannesburg, by residents chanting “Kill that witch!”, reports South Africa’s Star newspaper.
The vervet monkey had reportedly wandered into the township after becoming separated from its troop. Residents said the monkey had been going around Kagiso “talking to people,” and believed it was linked to witchcraft and would bring them bad luck.
They pelted the monkey with stones, and the monkey fled into a tree but was pulled down, put in a bucket and doused with gas.
Kagiso resident Tebogo Moswetsi told the Star that he climbed the tree and grabbed the monkey.
"I was curious to see this monkey that people claimed could talk, and when I saw a group of people chasing after it, I joined them," he said. "When it went up the tree, I climbed after it and brought it down because I was curious as I found it unbelievable that a monkey could talk.
"I feel guilty. I shouldn't have taken it down from that tree. I dropped it down after someone poured petrol on it. I had no choice," Moswetsi said. "Someone struck a match. [The monkey] got out of the bucket and dropped down dead. They continued throwing stones at it."
Cora Bailey, manager of Community-led Animal Welfare (CLAW), got a call from an upset resident and when she arrived in Kagiso saw a big crowd gathered around the remains of the burning monkey.
“I felt devastated. You could barely tell it had been a living creature. There were very small children who looked very confused and frightened,” she told the Star, describing the incident as "barbaric."
Bailey later said that she was horrified to see the racist comments that have appeared online in response to the incident.
"Every time this happens, it's people in the community who call us. Cruelty to animals is not a racial thing. I've worked in townships for 20 years and there are good and bad people in all communities," she told the Guardian newspaper.
Bailey said the "dreadful superstition" about monkeys and witchcraft in some communities is fuelled by ignorance about the animals, and a lack of knowledge that vervet monkeys can be separated from their troops or be displaced by the destruction of their natural habitat.
Johannes Bapela, who called Bailey, said the claims of witchcraft were “totally baseless” and he thought the monkey was killed more from mob mentality.
“I couldn't sleep that night because it was too traumatic,” he told The Star.
South Africa's NSPCA, which represents societies for the prevention of cruelty to animals, said it was horrified to hear about the monkey's death and would look into possible prosecutions.