Gibraltar Monkeys – Barbary Macaques
Your holiday in Gibraltar, or your relocation to the area of Gibraltar will bring you in contact with a few neighbors you may not know about. Unofficially called the National animal of Gibraltar, the Barbary Macaque is known the length and breadth of the area, and is in most cases, simply referred to as the Gibraltar monkey, or when spoken of in Spanish or the local language, are simply called monos.
Scientists believe that the Barbary Macaque population, the proper name of the Monkeys of Gibraltar, the last of such a population on the continent of Europe (although they do thrive in North Africa) was introduced to the area of Gibraltar by the Moors who lived there between 700 and 1492. The Gibraltar Monkeys were likely used as pets by the occupants, however there is another school of thought that believes that the original macaques were holdovers from a population that had spread over southern Europe up to 5 million years ago. One absolute certainty is that before the area became British territory, in the early 1700’s, the macaque population was present there.
This is known to be fact in that Portillo wrote, in about 1610 about those very Barbary Macaques, (Gibraltar Monkeys) saying “But now let us speak of other and living producers which in spite of the asperity of the rock still maintain themselves in the mountain, there are monkeys, who may be called the true owners, with possession from time immemorial, always tenacious of the dominion, living for the most part on the eastern side in high and inaccessible chasms.” In 1782 Ayala, another Spanish historian also wrote of the Gibraltar monkeys: “Neither the incursions of Moor, the Spaniards nor the English, nor cannon nor bomb of either have been able to dislodge them.” There are presently about 250 of the Gibraltar Monkeys, divided into five troops that live in the area that is known as the Upper Rock, and once in a while make brief forays into town that sometimes result in a bit of a fright of a little damage to personal property, but most of the locals believe that they are certainly worth the trouble as they are an integral part of Gibraltar and the Monkeys of Gibraltar certainly a draw to the tourists of Gibraltar.
Considered by many in the area, and vacationers to be the top attraction of Gibraltar, the Gibraltar monkeys attract attention where ever they are seen. One troop, which is called the Queen’s Gate group, living at Apes Den, are tame enough that they permit people to get exceptionally close to them, and will often come up to the tourists and quite often climb up on them. You are of course encouraged to use caution when this happens, as they are, regardless of how tame they appear, still wild animals and can bite or scratch if they are frightened or upset.
The Gibraltar Monkeys, or Barbary Macaques have so much contact with so many, including both tourist and local alike, that their social groups began to break down over time and they became quite dependent upon human interaction to feed them, which encouraged their foraging in the town, and doing damage to both clothing and people, as well as to buildings and automobiles.
This resulted in a law in Gibraltar that makes feeding the macaques punishable by law, so that if you are caught feeding the monkeys of Gibraltar you may net yourself a fine of up t £500.
The populace of Gibraltar Macaques was taken care of by the British Amry, and later on, by the Gibraltar Regiment, so that from about 1915 to 1991,they were under military supervision, who controlled their population, and appointed an officer who supervised their welfare, including food allowances of such items as fruit, vegetables and nuts, which they included in the budget that was made for the care of the monkeys. The officers also recorded the births of the macaques, and in proper military fashion, every single new infant was named when they were seen, many of them named after a governor, a brigadier or a higher ranking official.
Any which were taken ill or were injured in any way were taken to the Royal Naval Hospital and in fact received treatment equal to that of any other enlisted person.
With the withdrawal of the garrison, the Gibraltar Government received the responsibility for the care of the Macaques.
Today things are a bit different and the monkeys are managed now by the Gibraltar Ornithological and Natural History Society (GONHS) and the monkeys medical and nutritional care is provided by the Gibraltar Veterinary Clinic (GVC). Each day the macaques receive a supply of fresh water, are given vegetables, fruit and seeds as supplement to the natural food resources that they forage, and are regularly caught and checked to assure their good health.
With a nod to new technologies, today the animals are given a tattoo number and a micro chip as a means of identification. Once each year, a census is conducted to monitor reproductive success of the whole population, and to prevent what could prove to be a problem with the increasing population and the limited habitat of Gibraltar.
The fact that the monkeys are one of the tourist attractions of Gibraltar aside, there is also a legend, or a belief that exists here which also impels the locals to care for the monkeys.
The belief holds that as long as Barbary Macaques exist on Gibraltar, the territory will remain under British rule. In 1942 the population dwindled to just seven of the Gibraltar monkeys, and the British Prime Minister of the time, Sir Winston Churchill ordered that the numbers of the monkeys of Gibraltar be replenished immediately from both Morocco and Algeria due to this traditional belief.
For more photos and videos of the monkeys, visit: www.gibraltarmonkey.com
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